I’ve been to two choreographed, big-time concerts in my life. I saw Roger Waters do The Wall a couple of summers ago in Indianapolis, and if you can afford it (it isn’t cheap), I’d recommend it. It’s an incredible mix of live and digital effects, along with the awesome soundtrack, of course. And the scale is something which isn’t often replicated by other live shows, although I’d imagine Madonna and U2, to name a couple, could probably pull it off.
The other staged show I witnessed was the New Kids on the Block, back in 1990 in Peoria, Ill. A plethora of choreographed dancing, a big video screen, at least one of the Kids floating over the crowd during songs. Lots and lots of teenage girls screaming. While the music wasn’t much to write home about, the show was pretty impressive.
So when I saw Mumford & Sons on Labor Day at Klipsch near Indy, these are the two shows I thought of over the course of the night’s tightly choreographed show. Unfortunately, Mumford came off more New Kids and less Waters.
It started with the big video screens. I began to notice how every shot was perfect, the framing, the lighting, the cuts. It was like the final version of a concert video, that well done. Thing is, you can’t do that unless you know precisely where every band member is going to be at all times. I also started to realize that none of the backing band was ever on video, even if soloing. And when someone (crew? member of opening bands?) ran onstage with a cowbell and was playing with Mumford & Sons, the cameras never cut to what I now know to be the only spontaneous act in that show.
The last thing that really struck me, though, was each song sounded pretty much exactly like the album version. No, Mumford and the fellas weren’t lip syncing. But they weren’t re-working the arrangements much, jamming, changing instrumentation, nothing much to distinguish what they are capable of as a live band compared to what they create in the studio.
That’s what frustrates me. I have friends who saw Mumford & Sons in a club in Louisville a year ago, and they raved about the show, the energy, the jamming. I saw none of that. I saw a band determined to give each of their Grammy-loving fans the same show, from Boston to Bakersfield. An Applebee’s-ization of music.
It really sucked the heart out of the show for me. When I go to a live show, it’s the opportunity to see improvisation, re-working of the catalog, how the band connects with the audience. At Mumford & Sons, I was served the equivalent of the opening number at the Academy Awards. And while I know some people gobble that up – just as many of the people at that Labor Day show did – I’m not interested in swallowing that bile.