Second support act Pete Rowe introduced one of his lovelier acoustic songs tonight with a quip about it being written early in the spring as October draws near, hoping the autumn grey wouldn’t dull its shine. His words, lost in a mutter, set the perfect tone for an evening of varied autumnal folk downstairs in the Academy basement, sobering the audience from the highs of the summer with a string of bitter fireside ditties, and then on to barn-stomping hoedowns.
With a straw hat full of holes and a comfortable smile, Rowe himself is quite the tender troubadour – his songs as stimulating as they are catchy, intricate and smart. He warms the audience to him instantly and effortlessly. Earlier support came form Belfast’s Lowly Knights, a troupe of seven or eight hairy lads playing a strong set of room-filling, confident and progressively charming folk-rock shadowing the Mumford & Sons philosophy. With so many bodies on the Academy’s cramped underground stage, including multiple percussionists, it’s a wonder they can keep it together at all – but with a few screws tightened, they’ve the songs to echo the soaring heights of the headliners themselves (which is praise indeed).
The folk-pop angle is somewhat overbearing tonight, with all the tales of snakes and giants, of goings-on -in the country’, of harvests, fields and yields. Rarely do you hear the word -yield’ referring not to a romantic surrender, but the literal give of land, twice in an evening at the Academy – but tonight it’s par for the course. With Mumford & Sons, the London folk four-piece (of the Noah and the Whale, Laura Marling stable) could be nudged with such allusions into a weary zone of uncomfortable backwardness, but they bear bold contemporary touch-points, in a roundabout way – Fleet Foxes, Beirut, and Arcade Fire loosely suggest themselves. Their sound is slightly more, though, than the sum of their influences, old and new – and it is tightly perfected, delivered in a thump and thwack that leaves audiences dazed.
Assembled modestly, like a post-war American bluegrass portrait, they open disarmingly with debut title-track -Sigh No More’, before quickly hitting their stride on audience favourite -Little Lion Man’. -The Cave’ soon provides a wearily attentive, hitherto dumbstruck crowd with the singalong they were yearning for, while falling silent and even reverent for the quieter moments, on tender album-track -Timshel’. The whole live package is so convincing, so rawly powerful and empowering, that it fills gaps in the debut (out next month), that you didn’t quite know were there, and can only be filled live. It is -White Blank Page’, an abiding favourite, that defines the formula: scattered, restrained acoustics held under Marcus Mumford’s gravelly roar, matched by the rise of the Sons’ rich, note-perfect harmonies into a bracing, rolling crash of a chorus – all leading to a somber, goosebumping a cappella finish. It’s a recipe they’ve mastered and are beginning to define. -Dustbowl Dance’ closes the set with a welcome change of tack, though, and ends in an almost psychedelic cacophony of guitar and drums, leaving State wonderfully deaf for the rest of the evening. Stirring, exhilarating, and surprisingly pacey stuff, apt for the greyer autumnal months.
Photo courtesy of Anika.