Mumford & Sons/Cadillac Sky Band/King Charles; November 1, 2010; War Memorial Auditorium; Nashville
I’d never even heard of Mumford & Sons until Ha Ha Tonka bass player Luke Long recommended them to me. I still hadn’t heard a note when I saw they were playing at the Pabst Theater and figured I might like to go. Unfortunately the show fell right in the middle of our Alabama road trip, so I checked to see where else they were playing and found this show in Nashville the day after the Talladega 500 (yep, really, but that’s a whole ‘nother story), right on our way home. Somehow I talked my travel mates into going and I bought the tickets back in early August. Little did we know, Mumford & Sons were about to explode. The Milwaukee show sold out the Pabst so quickly it was moved to the much bigger Riverside, in Chicago it moved from the Vic to the Riviera. The show at War Memorial Auditorium sold out but didn’t move, and I felt lucky to be seeing them at all. In the meantime the rest of my group was trying to figure out how to sell their tickets for the $400 one of them had seen on Craigslist. And I was trying to figure out how a song that uses the f word so often and so prominently had gotten enough radio play to lead to this sort of frenzy.
It had been a rather exhausting trip thus far. The two nights before had been spent camping on the hard, and unexpectedly cold ground at the racetrack, the campfire smoke so thick it looked like the place was burning down, with rednecks driving around in pickups flying Confederate flags and whooping for no apparent reason all night long. I was tired and I didn’t have the patience for two openers. The first of these was King Charles, who looked more like the spaniel than any member of royalty. He had long black curly hair (see? spaniel), a fancy coat and very tight britches that left nothing to the imagination. And he played his guitar up too high to make sure of that. He may have been serious about his music, but to me it felt like Har Mar Superstar, the obnoxious, super cheesy alter-ego of singer songwriter Sean Tillman, except thankfully he kept his clothes on. The second opener was much better. The Cadillac Sky Band looked like the American cousins of Mumford- banjoes, fiddles, upright bass but with a lot more facial hair. This I liked. They had a sincere charm and they were all wicked good players. It turns out music runs in band leader David Mayfield’s family, and he brought his sister Jessica Lea (who’s currently on tour with Justin Townes Earle) out to do a song.
If you’ve seen the video for “Little Lion Man,” Mumford & Sons big hit, you can envision what the venue looked like, strings of large globed Christmas lights ran from the back of the balcony to the stage, with a few more strings behind them onstage. Except instead of an echoing empty venue, this room was filled to capacity with rabid fans who knew every word to every song. This should be where the backlash starts, they’re too popular, too mainstream, too flavor of the week, too pretty, too trite, but you’re not going to convince me of that. I may never see them again just because they are so popular, and I’m cheap and tend to stay away from large venues, but this is a genuinely talented bunch of boys, and yes they are pretty, but they put on a hell of a show. Of the four, Mumford himself was the only one who wasn’t attractive at first look. But onstage he was so sincere and charmingly snarky that I fell for him to. Though many of the debut record songs are drumless, for the new songs Mumford He told us the story of his first guitar purchased in Nashville three years ago, “It’s named D’Artagnan,” he added, “not that you care, but I have the fuckin’ microphone.” (Swearing is actually charming with a British accent) We took a moment to ponder the fact that he had just bought his first guitar three years ago and had already put out a hit record.
Turns out that wasn’t the only thing Mumford & Sons had found in Nashville, they’ve also made some friends. They’d already brought some of the members of Cadillac Sky out to play with them, but they blew the collective crowd’s mind by additionally inviting home town boys Old Crow Medicine Show out for a couple of songs. This resulted in a whole slew of musicians on stage, and a total of four banjoes, four! There aren’t many places outside of a bluegrass festival that you are going to see that, and it was pretty amazing. I hope I get another opportunity to see these guys, but if I don’t I’ll just be thankful to have seen them once.
War Memorial Auditorium
Cadillac Sky Band
Mumford & Sons