There’s hardly ever any literal meaning behind the phrases “brought the house down” or “burned the house down.” But the stage designer for Mumford and Sons’ performance at Day Two of Boston Calling must have decided to bring those metaphors to life.
The backdrop was a simple set-up, with three simple large windows that scaled the stage with only a plain sheet behind. There were no digital graphics flashing on stacked screens and lights were a classic, powerful gold. It was simple and almost homey-looking, perfectly complementing Mumford and Sons’ folk style.
But as the band hit the last refrain of “Believe,” with Marcus Mumford reaching the highest and strongest note of the entire song, the sheet behind those windows dropped straight to the floor, rippling behind the glassless panes on its way down.
It was a subtle detail, and those paying more attention to the music might not have taken note of seconds-long set change. But everyone noticed a few songs later, during “Dustbowl Dance” when suddenly the stage was literally on fire.
During arguably the most powerful half of a Mumford and Sons song, the steel beams making up the floor-to-ceiling windows started flaming. As Ben Lovett was slamming on his piano keys and Mumford was singing so hard one could see the strain in his throat, the fire was the only light the entire stage had.
And as the volume and energy level came down for the final bars of the song, the beams lowered until Mumford was left standing solo at the front of the stage with a pile of burning ruins around him.
Staging like this makes it clear that Mumford and Sons knows how to perform. The band knows how to provide a visual complement to its music without it becoming a distraction because Mumford and Sons knows that the music is truly the most important thing happening on stage.
The audience knows this too—every member standing in the crowd was belting out the words along with Mumford, sometimes even instead of Mumford. There’s a part in “Little Lion Man” without lyrics, just a series of “ahs” crescendoing in both volume and pitch. The crowd knew every note and took the lead over Mumford to produce a chorus of thousands of voices.
The instrumentals stop for the bars following this section, and usually Mumford’s voice is left as the solo deliverer of the chorus lines. “But it was not your fault but mine,” Mumford began before he took an extended pause.
The key to this part of the song is the silence in between lines—that’s what accounts for the power and emotion behind it. It is rarely possible to count on a crowd of multiple thousands to be completely silent for any period of time, but between each of these lines, there was not a sound, not a single cheer or isolated scream from any individual standing in that crowd.
“And it was your heart on the line,” Mumford’s voice rang out in perfect unison with the crowd before everyone paused together and didn’t breathe a word, waiting instead for the next phrase to open their mouths again.
It is difficult for any artist to have expectations for any given audience in terms of its participation and behavior. But Mumford and Sons seemed to know it’s crowd perfectly, letting the people take control at parts such as those in “Little Lion Man” and other favorites such as “The Cave” and “Lover of the Light.”
In fact, the band seems to have very high expectations for its audience members. As the opening notes of “Awake My Soul” played, Mumford asked the crowd to help him sing along. “You can do much better,” Mumford teased after the first audience-attempted “awake my soul.” And the crowd responded with much more power the second time around, leading Mumford to smile and nod in approval.
The entire concert was a team effort in this way—it would not have been the same without the unity between the audience and the band, and it would not have been the same without the unity between the band members themselves. Each member has an incredible number of talent individually: Lovett perfectly blends his classical training with the rock style the band’s music requires. Winston Marshall switches between electric guitar and banjo for just about every other song, and Ted Dwane trades in an electric bass for a double one just as often. Mumford himself runs between acoustic or electric guitar and the second red drum set stationed just for him sometimes in the same song, all while belting out lead vocals.
But despite each individual’s immense talent, the band doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the talent of fellow artists, which brought about perhaps the most special encore act the festival has ever seen. Mumford and Sons invited Nathaniel Rateliff and Brandi Carlile, who had both performed their own sets earlier in the day, onstage with them as well as The National’s Aaron Dessner. “We’ve never rehearsed this as a group,” Mumford warned the crowd before launching into The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
The band could have easily ended its encore with “I Will Wait,” which the audience was indeed waiting for in the encore act and immensely satisfied with after the fact. Instead, the band members shared the stage with their friends to end the second day with a performance that no one merely witnessed but was rather a full part of.
“If we f*ck it up forgive us,” Marcus Mumford laughed before strumming the opening notes on his guitar.
They did anything but.
Featured Image By Josh Mentzer / Heights Staff