The real slim shady of music Marmite, it was always going to be an interesting evening for Mumford and Sons at their banana skin riddled, Friday night headline slot at Reading 2015.
The supposed ‘rock transformation’ of their more delicate and undeniably successful folk sound was always going to cause controversy. ‘Abandoning their roots’ say the hardcore, ‘trying too hard’ say the omnipresent critics of Mumford. But the truth is somewhere between these two polar opposites: Mumford neither prioritise nor heavily reside in one or the other at Reading 2015.
In a set that comprises the old and the new, the natural rise and fall of their set is lukewarm. Marcus Mumford does not, for example, hault their performance of The Cave to announce that he is the greatest rockstar in the world ala Mr West at Glastonbury. Equally, within a formula that causes inevitable early enjoyment, the novelty of electric guitars and the familiarity of bouncing acoustic guitars becomes less and less interesting as their set wears on. It is this undecided, liminal state between old and new that keeps Mumford safe, entertaining, but ultimately a little underwhelming at the conclusion of their headline slot.
Highlights naturally occur within the unsurmounted joy of tracks such as Little Lion Man and I Will Wait that sweep through the mammoth Reading crowd, providing a driving and uplifting vantage point with which to view their decorated past. With soaring trumpets, bodies flailing on shoulders and mass chorus sing alongs, it feels as if here, we are in quintessential Mumford territory. There is even a genuine sense early on that perhaps, Mumford and Sons are not only going to live up to expectations as Reading headliners, but also surpass these expectations beyond all recognition.
Such is the spectacle we are watching at certain points that Marcus Mumford, one you might not normally associate with the crawling of raucous crowds, even displays his inner sense of adventure. Disregarding all safety protocols, Marcus briefly scales the masses in the Reading crowd during Ditmus before returning a little later looking hagged, sweaty and somewhat distressed. Rock on, brother.
Whilst their newer material from third album Wilder Mind struggles a little amid the accessible, melodic backdrop that their previous two efforts provide, this is not to say that Mumford are wrestling with a hostile crowd in the face of new material. Indeed, when playing Believe we are indulged with their most ornate moment both visually and musically. Obeying the call of Keyboardist Ben Lovett, a thousand and one (probably more) phone lights and lighters are lofted to the air providing an almost never ending sea of light. Mumford’s sense of occasion and proficiency in handling their headlining responsibilities in this moment seems controlled and considered. Their ability to conjure up feelings of awe and adulation with heart-warming melodic and textural complexities is as much their weakness as it is their strength, but here, Reading 2015 witnesses all that is good about Mumford.
Although the set does in truth fade towards its climax, Mumford have given a good account of themselves. Exiting to the announcement of a December UK tour and some well over-due pyrotechnics, it feels as though, just about, their headline checklist has been ticked off. Without necessarily going above and beyond the call of duty, Mumford have emerged as part of a new generation of festival headliners that most certainly deserve to be taken seriously.
Over to you, Metallica...
Photo credit: BBC