Mumford and Sons are a band in transition. The band from London didn’t ignite the rustic-folk rock revival that erupted several years ago, but they became the face of it and a sound that featured foot-stomping string-based anthems with gang vocals. Although they weren’t exactly live-action role players, their fashion suggested they inhabited another era, like the days of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
But M&S has shed that fashion and its music is aiming for something grander and less quaint: the arena-rock sounds of bands like U2 and Coldplay. Monday night, they sold out the Sprint Center and for nearly two hours gave the 15,000-plus in attendance heavy doses of their sounds old and new.
They opened with “Snake Eyes,” an anthem from “Wilder Mind,” their third and most rocking and electric album and the one that signified a change in music direction. The song starts as a midtempo ballad before erupting into a bristling full-bore rock anthem.
They didn’t sustain that mood for long, however. They followed that with “Little Lion Man,” the rousing folk anthem that launched them into stardom. The crowd sang along with gusto, emphasizing the f-bomb each time. Two songs in, and the band had already aroused the fervor of an encore.
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Two songs later, they would exceed that mood with “Kansas City,” a track Marcus Mumford contributed to “The New Basement Tapes,” a collection of Bob Dylan lyrics turned into songs by various songwriters. It was, apparently, the first time M&S has played the song on the tour and an obvious choice for the evening. This town loves to hear its name in song, and the crowd responded accordingly, singing along feverishly and roaring after each “Kansas City.”
Mumford and Sons are a four-piece but they brought along some help. Several songs were fortified by a horn section, including “Lover of the Light,” in which Mumford played the drums. And opener Blake Mills joined the band on a few songs, including “Awake My Soul.”
Several of the “Wilder Mind” songs stood out as live tracks, especially “Tompkins Square Park,” the U2-est song of the night, and “Ditmas,” another dynamic arena-rocker. During that song, Mumford left the stage and jogged into the crowd on the floor, up a flight of stairs to the concourse at the back of the first level and back down into the crowd and onto the stage, singing all the while.
The crowd greeted most of the “Wilder” songs enthusiastically. During “Believe,” they turned the arena into a giant bowl of stars, hoisting cell phones aloft. But the older numbers aroused the heartiest ovations, like “The Cave” and “Roll Away Your Stone,” a country-folk romp with grunge dynamics.
The only lag came on the satellite stage, when they attempted a two-song acoustic set (“Timshel” and “Cold Arms”). All four members gathered and sang around one microphone. Either more volume or another microphone was needed; parts of each song were barely audible.
They closed with “The Wolf,” another big-sky rock anthem, but only after pulling out the banjo and acoustic guitars one more time for “I Will Wait,” igniting more dancing and arm waving and another hearty and heartfelt sing-along with the sound that made them famous.