The secret to indie-folk rockers Mumford and Sons' unlikely success may have come out last night at the sold-out Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Within three years, the British quartet has gone from unknown to 2012's biggest-selling rock band – its chart-topping “Babel” album selling more than 1.5 million copies and landing them six Grammy nominations Sunday night, including album of the year.
The band's elegantly simple folk arrangements in “Thistle and Weeds” and “Ghosts That We Knew” were clearly on display throughout the 105-minute show. Their four-part harmonies were also impressive, especially on the stripped-down encores “Reminder” and the a cappella “Sister” performed at a small stage in the back of the arena.
However, plenty of folk-rockers – both past and present – have offered similar takes on those traditional forms and come nowhere close to Mumford and Sons' massive reception. Could their secret weapon actually be singer Marcus Mumford's right foot?
That's what he uses to play the big bass drum while he sings and plays guitar, creating a driving thud-thud-thud throughout the band's most upbeat songs, pushing their crowd towards a bouncing, sing-along frenzy at the show's start with “Babel” and the hit single “I Will Wait.” And it's that stomping four-on-the-floor beat that ties the band's folk to the other segments of today's pop music, from Britney Spears to Swedish House Mafia.
Sure, the band borrows some other song dynamics from rockers like U2 to propel their folk anthems to arena sing-along status, with “Lover of the Light” generating more power than its recorded versions thanks to the addition of a horn section and a string section onstage.
But it's that simple, driving beat that separated Mumford and Sons from the folk-rock pack, though that secret weapon is starting to get out, used by The Lumineers and even “American Idol” Phillip Phillips. And when the band shifts away from it for too long, a bit of their magic slips away and Mumford and Sons feels a little too ordinary.
Take care of that foot, Marcus.
Mumford and Sons return to Barclays Center on Tuesday.
SETLIST: Babel / I Will Wait / Winter Winds / Below My Feet / White Blank Page / Timshel / Little Lion Man / Lover of the Light / Thistle & Weeds / Ghosts That We Knew / Holland Road / Awake My Soul / Roll Away Your Stone / Whispers in the Dark / Dust Bowl Dance // ENCORES: Reminder / Sister / Lover's Eyes / The Cave