Mumford and Sons with Matthew and the Atlas and Johnny Flynn - Bristol O2 Academy
OK, it might be a bit ‘hand-bags at dawn’, but on first impressions support number one; Matthew and the Atlas, did seem like they may have needed to use said Atlas to direct themselves to a more appropriate venue, say a French bistro where ‘les hommes du le monde’ can sip on frog-leg tea and listen to the croons of a misunderstood Englishman. It turns out, ironically, that he is exactly that. Once onstage with a banjo, an accordion, and a keyboard playing laydee in tow, Matthew and co. walked in the same footsteps as Mumford and Sons, but with a heavier lullaby lilt that took gravity from beneath people’s feet. They opened up the aural capacity of the seeping-in crowd and proved that it’s not just the headliners that can pull this type of malarkey off. If you shut your eyes and listened to the soul-soothing tones of Matthew’s vocals, you’d swear on some relative’s life that standing before you was an old, bearded AA member, who consumed a minimum of 200 fags a day. When you have opened your eyes however, you’d be rather pleasantly surprised at the figure singing in front of you, but then not so happy when you realise that you may soon have a dead relative. On an upside though, Matthew and the Atlas were setting the stage for a modern folk-rock Hootenanny, proverbially pumping up the balloons and getting the bash a-going hoe-down stylee.
If Matthew and the Atlas pumped up the balloons, trumpet-brandishing Johnny Flynn brought the mouth-watering folk finger-buffet. Caressing ear canals with a voice that one drunk successfully described as “the best ever I reckon”, Johnny sung of living in a pre-60s nostalgia under the guise of ‘1952 / Was the year I lost you’, coating all tracks with a Dylan-esque sentimentality that made those cunning hairs on the back of the neck stand to attention. After dabbling in talk of ginger symmetry (I’ll leave it up to your imagination) the Flynn-ster et entourage broke into such tantalising banjo-strumming that saliva started to develop in glands no-one ever knew existed. And if that isn’t enough to tempt you, they were asked for an encore before they even walked offstage. It’s fair to say that they activated everyone’s musical pleasure-nodes and warmed-up the crowd’s vocal-chords for the headliners to follow.
And so to the main attraction. Walking onstage, Marcus and his metaphorical offspring set all internal body thermostats to absolute zero as their silhouettes moved against a poignant amber sunset hue, which was probably enough to make an excitable pun-geek suggest a name re-think to ‘Mumford and Suns’ (apologies, if it’s any consolation, it was painful to write). As they effortlessly launched into ‘Sigh no More’ cries of “I’m sorry” cascaded off the Academy’s walls, casting the top-tiered crowed as Juliet, readily serenaded by the Romeo of Mumford and Sons who stood guitar-in-hand beneath them. With what seemed like a stock of guitars that had some sort of Russian Doll syndrome, Marcus and co. rolled away their stone, which also prompted banjo-brandisher Winston Marshall to shag his banjitar like there was no tomorrow. Afterwards, Marcus indirectly addressed this (hopefully consensual) act of aural pleasure by confessing “they told us that tonight was going to be sweaty, but I think this is going to be ridiculous”. As well as raising a few ‘ooh err missus’ comments, it only added to the focus upon the perfectionism that was dripping from the lads’ every pore, causing a trend of open-mouthed astonishment at a band whose purity sounds better off a produced CD than on it.
Where some artists dread about playing new material in front of an album-devoted audience, Mumford and Sons did not. After introducing a newbie track as one "we wrote in Australia", I got panicked for a minute, thinking of some hoe-down version of 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport', but thankfully my stereotypical assumption couldn't have been more wrong. Like the calling of ‘Winter Winds’ and ‘Awake my Soul’, the silence in-between each lyric echoed with as much resonance as the words, of which were sung back to Marcus like a stood-to-attention choir in holy barracks. Each track pulled at the heart strings with such might that it was like being played by Mumford’s own hands, guiding the soul down an alley the quartet will walk down next.
Through the folk-opera sproutings of ‘Thistle and Weeds’ and the earthly bellows of ‘Oh tell me now, where was my fault / In loving you with my whole heart’ from eye-waterer ‘White Blank Page’, goose pimples awoke with so much vigour, that it actually felt like they were laying their eggs. The firefly-lit surroundings of ‘After the Storm’ only heightened this sensation, highlighting the vocal delicacy and resonance of Marcus’ larynx. As ‘The Cave’ in the encore came to an end, there was a feeling that if everyone wasn’t already on their feet due, well, to an apparent lack of seating, then there would have been a standing ovation. Making me believe that these people really gave a folk.