BY YVONNE ZUSEL
Folk rock band Mumford & Sons ruffled some traditionalist feathers when they released their third album, “Wilder Mind,” in 2015, trading in the banjo for more of a plugged-in sound with an emphasis on the “rock” over the “folk.”
“It wasn’t a huge strategic move,” frontman Marcus Mumford told AJC music writer Melissa Ruggieri in an interview last week.
Judging from the crowd reaction at Monday night’s nearly sold-out show at Infinite Energy Center in Duluth — the band returns for a second on Tuesday — no one seems to mind a little shift in sound, although fans are also perfectly happy to hear some of the classics that put Mumford & Sons on the map in the first place.
The foursome — joined on several songs by musicians providing support on horns and violin — did, of course, dig into songs from “Wilder Mind,” including the scorching opener “Snake Eyes” and the shimmering single “Believe,” during which the arena turned into a sea of smartphone lights, the modern day answer to everyone busting out their lighters.
In some ways, it was like listening to two different bands — the difference between material on “Wilder Mind” and 2009’s “Sigh No More” as well as 2012’s “Babel” is fairly vast, and it was sometimes jarring moving from the sweet, mournful “White Blank Page,” which leans heavily on Winston Marshall’s lovingly played banjo and the shimmering harmonies of the group, to the pop syncopation of “Tompkins Square Park,” on which Marshall trades in his banjo for an electric guitar.
But is that such a bad thing, really? The songs on “Wilder Mind” are as well crafted as anything on the two previous albums, and the band ably moved from folk jangle to more obvious radio fare without dropping a note. Theirs is a drum-tight band that plays so passionately that it doesn’t really matter if you’re a fan of their older material or prefer their new sound — it’s all so much fun to listen to.
And is there a frontman more likable than Marcus Mumford? Whether he loses the guitar in favor of the drums on “Lover of the Light”, cracking jokes about illicit substances and presidential candidates (“It smells like weed in here. I’m so high — Donald Trump is greeeeat. We’re English, we can laugh about it — you’re f***ked.”), talking about how much he loves Atlanta, he kept up a cheeky charm offensive that endeared him to the audience, in case his soulful voice and naturalness on the guitar and drums didn’t already do the trick.
After a shower of sparks that lent the end of the haunting “Dust Bowl Dance” a bit of razzle-dazzle, the guys came out for an encore that saw them moving from the main stage to a smaller platform in the middle of the audience, where they played a stripped-down, quiet version of “Reminder” before returning to the larger stage to close out with a lovely cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” that made good use of horns.
They closed with the one-two punch of the alt-rocker “The Wolf,” from “Wilder Mind,” and the bluegrass stomper “I Will Wait” from “Babel,” songs that are worlds apart in sound but are both played with such a sense of joy that you’re able to see how they were able to come out of the same set of musicians.