In the late days of the 19th and early days of the 20th centuries, vaudeville was the main form of live entertainment. There were theater shows, jugglers, trained animals, feats of strength (much like the Seinfeldian Festivus holiday) and musical acts.
It was the one-stop roadshow that would give people a break from their otherwise mundane lives. People would come from all over their respective states just to see the acts perform and it was where many famous comedy troupes and musical acts got their start.
A few months ago Mumford and Sons decided to undertake a similar offering. They were to take friends of theirs on the road to places where shows don’t typically go and play. The final stop on that voyage was Monterey, California. Mumford and Sons were the headlining act, but I’d be remiss if I said they were the band I most wanted to see.
There have been a lot of words written recently about Grouplove and Haim, two Los Angeles area bands that have taken the Silverlake/Indie music scene to levels not heard of since SilverSun Pickups started their brand of space rock.
Haim hit the stage in hipster chic style and wowed the crowd that wasn’t sure exactly what to expect and weren’t prepared for women to wail on the guitar like Danielle Haim did. The sisters Haim were something of a revelation on Saturday as they were fun, engaging and extremely energetic with Alana swinging her flowing locks around like something reminiscent of a Guns N’ Roses concert.
Women in music have been around forever, and women rockers are certainly nothing new, but not like this. Not since Lita Ford have women been this performance-oriented, and all before their first full length album has been released. If you’ve seen them live, you know what I’m talking about–this band is going to be huge.
They left the stage and a couple of hours later Grouplove took up where they left off. Grouplove is huge right now and with good reason: they’re amazing. They got on stage and had boys and girls dancing, jumping, singing along and this was just the first song. When they played “Tongue Tied,” it was all over. People started screaming. I fully expected girls to start weeping as if they’d just seen Elvis or the Beatles. It was one of the highlights of the show and of the summer of festivals and touring sideshows.
Grouplove front man, Christian Zucconi, thrashed about the stage like a man being ravaged by fire ants. He could barely contain himself and, almost as a perfect bookend to the competing sides of the stage, Hannah Hopper jumped around, sang with reckless abandon and smiled widely as the band that met on a musical residency in Greece, enthralled the audience and garnered wild applause and the adulation of thousands.
Headlining and closing the show were Mumford and Sons, a group that not 24 hours previous had delighted an entirely different crowd with their tribute to John Steinbeck and their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tome Joad,” a fitting song for the occasion. They embarked on this journey months ago to “see if it could be done,” they explained at the tribute and talked about how much of an influence Steinbeck was on their lives and their music.
These boys from across the pond spoke so highly of the American man that wrote of the Central Valley, not as a midpoint between LA and SF, but as a place where blue collar lives are made on places like Cannery Row and in towns like Salinas. Mumford is similarly inclined to turn the banal into the enchanting and as they took the stage Saturday night in a converted rodeo stadium, they turned a cold foggy night into an atmosphere as warm as a mother’s hug.
Playing many songs off their upcoming release they broke away from their normal acoustic instruments and strayed into uncharted electric territory. Like Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in ’65, they tried something different, changing a style that had worked to gargantuan results previously.
The difference was they weren’t booed off the stage, but cheered for their shift. It remains to be seen how the album is received, but if Saturday is any judge on the future, it will remain bright for Mumford and Sons. As they closed the show to The Band’s magnum opus, “The Weight,” the crowd sang along, the fog drifted into the horse pit and the Gentlemen of the Road Tour concluded as a magnificent success.
Will this set the stage for yet another festival to grace our presence in the future? Time will tell, but if this festival is any indication of what the emerging artists in music have in them, then I will be merely a part of the sheer masses that line up for this exhibition of excellence.