In the 14 months since Mumford & Sons last visited St. Louis, a bit has changed in the band's live performance. For starters, their success in America following two 2010 Grammy nods (including Best New Artist and Best Rock Song for "Little Lion Man") propelled them to overnight stardom. Once playing primarily to hipsters and early adopter music junkies, the four are now playing to audiences ranging from country lovers to indie and alternative followers, some of whom were willing to pay at least a cool hundo to see the guys perform live after their show sold out in -- what was it? -- 45 seconds?
Either the bashful Brits have become accustomed to their popularity, or their manager has demanded a little extra action on stage. In either case, they have morphed from a band who naturally poured their vigor out through their music as if they were jamming in a back bar somewhere with friends, to a band that makes a much more physical display of their energy.
Perhaps this was necessary with a larger following, or to keep the album Sign No More fresh in its second year on tour (though the band introduced a few new songs, including the anthemic "Lover's Eyes"). Between string bassist Ted Dwane's goofy camaraderie on stage and Winston "Country" Marshall getting down on the banjo to "Roll Away Your Stone," bandmates helped lead vocals Marcus Mumford supercharge the performance. Ben Lovett, the once shy keyboardist who hid under his hoodie during last year's show, has emerged full-force from his shell to bring added physical presence to the stage. Dancing, jumping, and incorporating random on-stage antics, one might have mistaken Lovett for Arcade Fire's Will Butler.
Newfound fame means newfound funds, and the group made a great investment in a horn section accompaniment to assist in songs such as "Winter Winds" (a popular pick they couldn't perform live last year in the absence of any brass) and sprinkled in to the moody "Thistle and Weeds." Despite the pageantry (that's right, I went there) of added lights, props, smoke and stage effects, Mumford balanced playing to the audience's wild adoration with reigning them in to an atmosphere more intimate and conducive to his thoughtful, literary songwriting. "Dust Bowl Dance," a raw jam fest of clanging drums and raging guitars, was brought to a close with Mumford solo in the spotlight, hushing the crowd with his quietly powerful presence. He wowed fans further gathering the group into a semi-circle to perform "Timshel" a cappella, and without the aid of the PA system. The packed house fell instantly silent, allowing the foursome to fill the air with a song that sounded more personal, and highlighted the groups' vocal talent more profoundly than any other performance that evening.
It is difficult to put a band like Mumford & Sons in a sizable venue because their acoustic, pub-jamming sound becomes more electric, competing with elements such as reverb and distortion. Still, there was nothing but awe from the paying customers leaving the Pageant feeling satisfied that they came for a performance of Mumford & Sons, and perform they did.