Review Panel: Mumford and Sons, Enmore Theatre, Sydney

Image Courtesy of C Murray

Mumford and Sons supported by Matt Corby and Fanfarlo
3rd August, Enmore Theatre

Evan: To say that this has been a phenomenal year for Mumford and Sons would be an understatement. From winning triple j’s Hottest 100 to headlining just about every festival on the face of the planet one has to wonder what’s next for the London folksters. In fact given the global domination of Mumford and Sons we were pretty lucky to catch them at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre – by rights they should be playing venues twice this size.

KTBell: Having only seen Mumford and Sons at Laneway Festival in January and very swiftly developing quite an appreciate for their entire album Sigh No More and coming off the back of seeing Laura Marling with stealth guest Marcus Mumford, I was pumped for an amazing show.

Evan: The first artist to grace the Enmore’s stage was Timber and Steel favourite Matt Corby. The last time I had seen Corby was at the intimate Communion night in January of this year where the crowd was transported to a higher plain by his angelic voice and ethereal guitars. Corby’s Enmore set just as good, sweeping through the half filled room and transfixing those that were watching. But I do feel that much of the magic of Matt Corby’s set was lost in the expanse of the Enmore and that he is better suited to smaller rooms and smaller audiences. “My False” is still a magnificent song though which I am very glad he played.

KTBell: I’m going to have a league of Matt Corby fans hating me. While I am whole heartedly impressed with Matt’s progress from Idol fame to now make it as a talented recording artist in his own right, I was looking forward to ‘discovering’ him at this gig. Evan is right, Matt’s style is incredibly ethereal and fantastically well done at that – but I discovered, I’m not much of an ethereal style fan. It’s not to say I disliked the set, it just didn’t speak to me. I do agree with Evan that potentially Matt and the band were lost on a large stage in a large room and I look forward to listening to the new album in a different setting to gain a full appreciation for the skill and musicality Matt brings to the genre. Having said that, the fans who were front and centre were quite clearly enthralled with the performance.

Evan: The second support for the evening were UK-via-Sweden band Fanfarlo who took to the stage to a rapturous applause probably off the back of their positive Splendour reviews. Part Arcade Fire, part Mumford and Sons, Fanfarlo proved to be the perfect lead in to the main act with a high energy, multi-instrumental set that had the crowd up and dancing almost from the get go. While the set did become a little samey towards the end (which may have been a result of the crowds growing anticipation for the headliners) but overall the performance was well received.

KTBell: Their multi-instrumentation was incredibly impressive. Their set had a couple of highlights, but for me, they were good, but not amazing. Their violinist occasionally reminded me of the Bridezilla girls in her flowing movement and sensual involvement in her performance. I can see the huge potential for their future, and I look forward to seeing some variety from them at future performances.

Evan: There’s a reason “Sigh No More” is the first track on the album of the same name – it’s an absolutely killer opening song. As soon as Mumford and Sons entered the stage they had the crowd under their control. Critics may bemoan the fact that many of the bands song follow the same start-slow-and-build-to-a-hoedown formula but this is exactly what makes them such a great live band. The fact that the audience is dancing wildly by the end of each piece of music must mean they’re onto something good.

KTBell: For me, this gig, in comparison to the previous night’s, shows how much difference an audience can make. As we waited eagerly for the Mumford boys to take the stage, it became apparent the crowd was an eclectic mix of fans. In chatting to the people around me, there were some who were die hard fans and others who obviously followed the Triple J hottest 100 rise to fame. Fans come in all shapes, sizes and with different tastes and preferences, so I don’t begrudge anyone their way of appreciating music, but it didn’t take long to realise this was going to be a rowdy crowd and a massive performance. Opening with title song “Sigh No More” was incredibly appropriate and was met with great enthusiasm. The crowd moved, danced, jumped, shouted, cheered and sang as one through the vast majority of the show.

Evan: I was surprised that Mumford and Sons chose to insert Hottest 100 winner “Little Lion Man” into the middle of the set when most bands would save their biggest single for the closer. But it meant that occasional fans got their fix early and were then treated to the rest of the band’s repertoire without the distraction of wondering when they were going to play the one track they knew. It also built the energy in the crowd (not that it was really needed) and filled the Enmore with 2,000 profanity filled voices.

KTBell: I expected an amazing performance and I was not disappointed by the lads. Visually, I am always intrigued that they present themselves in a straight line across the front of the stage – no one is any more important than the rest in this format and it works beautifully for their interaction and banter between songs. Marcus commented that they enjoy playing to Australian audiences, and judging by the grins creeping across their faces as the entire crowd sang along word for word to many of their songs, including the famed “Little Lion Man”, that despite selling out the Enmore for successive concerts, they still didn’t quite expect the reception we provided.

Evan: New material for a band as hard-touring as Mumford and Sons is always an unexpected surprise. For most artists the road is not the most conducive environment for creativity (The Waifs always complain that half of their songs are about being on the road), however the opposite seems true for the Mumford boys. Marcus admitted to the audience that one of their new songs had been written the week prior in Melbourne before launching into a track which sounded practiced and polished. I’m so excited about the prospect of a new album sometime in the near future.

KTBell: One absolute highlight was the bands decision to play a new track for the crowd. Marcus explained that in the past they had tested out new songs at live gigs, which were traditionally much, much smaller than that at the Enmore. He also revealed that the song in question was written in Melbourne only weeks before, and if we didn’t like it, well it wouldn’t go on to the next album. Unsurprisingly the mention of a new album sent the audience wild with cheers. While I don’t recall the name of the song, it displayed all the charm and melody of the ballads we’ve come to know and love from Mumford and Sons. The sheer elation in response by the audience should see this Aussie gem make it to the new album, well, we can hope.

Evan: Probably my highlight of the night was the band’s rendition of “Roll Away Your Stone” which, much like their Splendour performance the weekend before, featured members of Australian bands like Boy & Bear and The Middle East invade the stage and join the hoedown. Marcus Mumford endeared himself to the audience when he likened touring to “collecting new friends around the world” – the respect these guys show for their fellow artists is absolutely tangible. Finishing the set with an encore that included popular single “The Cave” was always going to be a popular choice and they definitely left the audience feeling uplifted and absolutely satisfied.

KTBell: Amazingly, once the crowd had yelled, cheered, stamped and whistled for an Encore and the boys came back out to play two last songs, I was astounded to realise as they started their last song of the night that “The Cave” had not featured in their main set, and lo and behold, that it was the final song of the night. It is testament to the engaging performance and entertainment that they deliver, that one of my favourite songs could be skipped from the main set and go unnoticed so as to end on a crescendo. It also proves that they are more than a one hit wonder band, with one of our near by fellow audience members declaring at the start of every song (including the new one no one had heard before) “This is my FAVourite”, it’s quite clear the Mumford style will be treating audiences for some time yet.

Evan: I’m so lucky to have seen Mumford and Sons twice this year and having them at the Enmore, rather than a festival, was really a treat. Given the obvious love they have for Australian audiences I’m sure we’ll see them again before too long.

KTBell: If a concert’s success can be measured in merchandise sales, this one rocked as I walked out with a Sigh No More singlet as well as Mumford and Sons branded t-shirt, hat and scarf and a desire for more Mumford as soon as possible. And with sell out crowds who lap up each and every show, they’re sure to be a fixture on the Summer Festival rounds.

Review Panel: Laura Marling, The Metro Theatre, Sydney

Laura Marling
Image Courtesy of marigae2008

Laura Marling supported by Johnny Flynn (solo) and Boy & Bear
2nd August, Metro Theatre

We’re going to try something a little different here at Timber and Steel. Given that three of our very talented writers were at Laura Marling’s Sydney Metro show this week and we were at a stalemate as to who would write the review we thought we’d share with you all three impressions of the show in our first ever “Panel Review”. And if it’s successful then maybe it’s something we’ll try again in future. So without further ado we give you our reviewers Evan Hughes, KTBell and Mackajay.

Evan: To say I’d been looking forward to this gig for sometime would be an understatement. Not only was it another chance to catch Laura Marling this year (I missed her Sydney Festival shows in January) but it was also going to be the first time seeing the wonderful Johnny Flynn, an artist I’d been avidly listening to since I downloaded A Larum early last year. Couple with this an appearance by the always solid Boy & Bear and this was going to be an absolutely cracking gig.

KTBell: Having only discovered Laura Marling in the last few months, and with Evan and Mackajay waxing lyrical about this girl, I bought a ticket without a second thought. At that time I may have listened to her album once, had never heard of Johnny Flynn and had heard one or two Boy & Bear tunes. Boy do I trust the opinions of these two!

Mackajay: Last time I saw Laura Marling was at the Factory Theatre two years ago, supported by an incredible, and largely unknown at the time, Marcus Mumford.  It was a lively, honest and unforgettable show and I was incredibly keen to hear some of Laura’s new material performed live.  I was however perhaps even a tad more excited to see Johnny Flynn for the first time on these shores (for full disclosure I am un-apologetically a huge fan of his recorded music)

Evan: We walked into the Metro just as Johnny Flynn was taking the stage for his first song. Sans his band The Sussex Wit, Flynn reminded me of a young Dylan, armed with just an acoustic guitar and that ageless voice. The crowd was surprisingly large and respectful to what was essentially an unknown, third billed support act responding to each song with whoops of encouragement and pretty meaty applause. Flynn made his way through a good cross section of his back catalogue including “The Wrote and the Writ”, “Been Listening” and “Tunnels”, stumbling once on his words (due to jet lag). Finishing with the wonderful “Tickle Me Pink” this reviewer at least wishes there’d been more than half an hour to his set (or even a headline gig elsewhere) although I’m glad I got the chance to see him.

KTBell: Let me start by saying – I won’t be surprised if Johnny Flynn becomes one of those artists who regularly has girls scream out “Marry Me, Johnny!” The epitome of the dashing young gent, complete with the charming demeanour and English accent, if looks alone are not enough, the sheer beauty of his voice will take you away to another world. For someone who claimed to be jet-lagged and still delivers such clear, strong vocals, I’d love to see him when he’s not jet-lagged! His style and performance lulled me, and the audience seemed also to appreciate his overwhelming talent. 

Mackajay: Johnny Flynn started his set with the wonderful “Lost and Found” from his new album Been Listening.  His handling of his trademark resonator guitar was accomplished as he wound his way through a very eclectic set-list that seemed to be formulated right there on the spot as he decided what to play. Vocally there was little to hint at the jet-lag he professed to have, although stumbling mid-song was a dead giveaway, and for another artist may not have been forgivable.  The larger-than-expected crowd was on Johnny’s side however, and were vocal, and seemed to know Johnny’s older music well – one girl next to me yelling ‘play “Leftovers”!’ at every opportunity.  Like Evan, I loved “Tickle Me Pick” but was less impressed by “Been listening”, which, shorn of it’s meaty guitar solo, didn’t seem to carry as much weight.  I really hope we can one day see a full Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit headline show here on our shores soon.

Evan: There’s a reason why Australia’s hardest working band Boy & Bear continually get tapped to play these support slots. They seem to treat every show as if it’s their own without ever coming across as arrogant. Being a five piece Boy & Bear’s sound is pretty big and definitely well suited to a venue the size of The Metro. The full audience was treated to every track off With Emperor Antarctica along with a couple of new songs (one of which lead singer Dave Hosking described as the band “going country”) and their now famous cover of Bon Iver’s “Flume”. It’s only a matter of time before Boy & Bear start headline venues like The Metro judging by the reaction of the audience – yet another solid effort by the guys.

KTBell: Having only seen Boy & Bear once before at a festival, in a cavernous hall, the Metro seemed a venue far more suited to their style. They are so at home on the stage and I, along with the rest of the audience I assume, felt so comfortable and intimate with them. In this setting, their performance truely enveloped the crowd, many were swept away with their performance, giggling along with their on stage banter and jokes about the tea towel shirt on Hosking and stomping, clapping and tapping along with so many now favourite songs. Hosking admitted that they had had a 6 week holiday recently, 2 weeks of which was set aside for them to write new songs since they were getting in trouble for having such short sets – a true sign that their popularity is growing in leaps and bounds. Their new stuff was as enjoyable as their old stuff, and we’ll even forgive them their country song, but the song that started it all, “The Storm”, was still my favourite and a real crowd pleaser. At the end of their set, I had to comment to our posse, that I just love that they are 5 men, playing instruments and still creating stunning harmonies. And none of these boy-band style harmonies, real delicate, subtle, closely aligned harmonies ever prevalent in older style and traditional folk music.

Mackajay: I’ve lost track of the times I’ve seen Boy and Bear, and their show is always rock solid.  Possibly it’s because I always seem to see them in support slots but I often feel that their songs tend to blend from one to another a little too easily, mainly because the instrumentation between the tracks  and the (excellent) harmonies tend to remain in a similar tonal range. I think it is no co-incidence that the tracks of theirs that tend to get the most radio play are the songs with the most dynamic changes, and these certainly stood out last night, and I would be lying if I (and the crowd) didn’t enjoy their performance.

Evan: The last time I saw Laura Marling she was a timid teenager playing to a curious post-Splendour crowd at Sydney’s Factory Theatre. Two years later and Marling has evolved into a confident, sweet performer who obviously has a genuine love for what she does and for her audience. Unlike last time Marling was joined by a full band including, for the nu-folk music nerds among us, Pete Roe on keyboards, electric guitar and harmonium and Marcus Mumford on mandolin and backing vocals (which is unlikely to be repeated every night of the tour given the competing schedules between Marling and Mumford and Sons).

KTBell: I may be committing blog-suicide here, but the only person I recognised walking out on to that stage was Marcus Mumford. My only image of Laura Marling was the cover of I Speak Because I Can, so forgive me for assuming she was a brunette. Once she opened her mouth, well, I was taken with her.

Mackajay: I think my good friends were a little afraid of what I might do if Laura played “Alas I Cannot Swim” considering how much I enjoyed it last time they played , When thinking back to the super-fast rendition that Marcus and Laura played at the Factory, I still get a warm glow.

Evan: Marling began her set with one of the best songs of the year “Devil’s Spoke” and then it only got better. Plundering most of her new album I Speak Because I Can as well as favourites from Alas I Cannot Swim Marling had the audience hanging on her every word and singing along with every chorus. Definite highlights throughout the night included “Ghosts” and “My Manic and I”.

KTBell: Laura took a lovely approach of introducing her band staggered between songs. She declared that it was to give her band members a taste of how awkward she feels when left to the microphone between songs. Amusingly, her band weren’t very talkative.  Laura’s self confessed awkwardness  actually translated as more of a laid back, latent humour in tune with her fans. She had the entire audience in fits of giggles throughout the evening, so we can only hope she no longer feels awkward and embraces the wonderful warm personality she conveys both in song and in the small talk. I also particularly enjoyed watching Pete Roe switch between instruments, and particularly loved the smooth flowing touch he took to the harmonium and hearing the resulting layer it adds to each song.

Mackajay: I was delighted to see Pete Roe, whom I recognised from his brief performance at the first Communion gig in Sydney, and also to see Marcus Mumford.  The fact that this group of artists want to play together at every opportunity they possibly can, even when they have their own hectic performance schedules gives each performance the feeling of a cosy jam-session.

Evan: The middle solo set to Marling’s performance saw her debut two new songs (maybe for her rumoured upcoming album?) as well as showcasing her unique voice backed solely by her acoustic guitar. After asking the audience to whistle the fiddle solo for “Night Terror” Marling added yet another string to her musical bow by out-whistling the 1,500 strong capacity crowd both through pursed lips and gritted teeth, gaining her a rapturous applause.

KTBell: You know a performer is good when the entire audience is silent. You know a performer is amazing when the audience stops even taking photos, to listen. Laura had us all transfixed and well in to her solo songs, I really noticed how still and focused the crowd was. We were hanging on her every word. Her new works were haunting and endearing at the same time and I look forward to listening to them again. One of the wonderful things I really connected with during her performance, which I hadn’t so strongly identified on the album (mixed playlists and ‘shuffle’ will do that) is her storytelling ability. Such strong narratives through many of her tunes are appreciated so much more live, with her personal accents and additions, stories and small talk around her set. It was also lovely to see how chuffed she was with us as an audience, as we sang along word for word, clear as a bell, she couldn’t help the wry grin spread across her face.

Mackajay: I was most pleasantly surprised by “Made by Maid”, whilst I like the album version, Laura’s brief intro of the backstory of the folk legend of The Babe in the Woods gave the story of the song a context that it hadn’t had for me before. In fact the acoustic songs that Laura played, including some new material, was confident and spellbinding.  There were many “pin-drop” moments where the audience were enthralled to the point of almost not breathing, before erupting into tumultuous applause at the end of each song, and some good-old-fashioned banter with the crowd – which Laura seemed to really enjoy.  (If anyone can remember the name of that second new song that Laura played and can help me out with the title, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for a recorded version, it was a cracker!)

Evan: Bizarrely when Marling’s band returned to the stage after her solo set Pete Roe had shaved off his 2 year old beard. The stunt was clearly not planned which set the audience off in a fit of laughter and threw Marling as she attempted to play the opening chords of her next song. She quickly regained her composure (although the quizzical looks towards Roe continued for the rest of the night) and finished out her performance just as she had begun – full of confidence and grace. Explaining to the audience that she didn’t do encores (“unless we turn into AC/DC”) Marling finished up with a boisterous version of “Alas I Cannot Swim” leaving the audience wanting more but ultimately thrilled with what was surely one of the best gigs of the year.

KTBell: Having admitted that she really likes playing to an Australian audience, along with the explanation of not playing encores (she was amused that the audience clapped that announcement and that that was the first time it had ever got a clap), it was testament to her performance and rapport with us, that between her second last and final songs, the crowd erupted into frenzied applause, whistling and screaming, demanding an encore. She smiled, a little perplexed and quite humbly thanked us, then proceeded to show her real thanks with an incredible and rousing finale. At the end of each set, I always wanted more but in a good way, a true sign of an incredible and engaging gig.

Mackajay: Laura: “Um did anyone else notice that Pete Roe suddenly hasn’t got a beard”
Pete: “It was the source of my power…. I had to sort it out”
Laura: (laughs) “It’s really rather a shame as I have to play a very serious song now”
As they launch into “I speak because I can” I’m left wondering what the heck happened backstage…

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