Mumford and Sons Gentlemen of the Road Stopover in Dixon, Illinois August 18, 2012
You know that conversation about what you'd do if you had some obscene amount of money? Where you and your friends talk about fantasies and strange projects of passion and uncompromising vision? And yet so often the people who wind up with an obscene amount of money lose sight of all that in the pursuit of more money or out of fear of losing it or out of the necessity of compromise.
Mumford and Sons' Gentlemen of the Road Stopovers are those pipe dreams come to life. They are impractical labors, set in towns with none of the infrastructure necessary to deal with a concert of this magnitude. It takes a week to set the thing up, putting banners on every lampost in downtown, erecting flags over the high school and turning several square miles into an intricate pedestrian bazar of music, food and general escape. The tickets are expensive but not nearly as much as they could have been. And there isn't a single sponsor logo anywhere.
The level of ubiquity attained by Mumford and Sons brings with it every possible reaction. There were people at the Dixon Stopover who would tell you the band has saved their lives. Meanwhile, there are those who roll their eyes at the theatrical obviousness of this music, the perceived affection of scruffiness among the band and its fans.
What is clear after spending a day in Dixon is that Mumford and Sons is a band whose clarity of purpose has not been poisoned by success.
Marcus Mumford, Country Winston Marshall, Ben Lovett and Ted Dwane took the stage in Page Park to the expected Messianic response from the assembled thousands. They dumped "Little Lion Man" -- their biggest hit -- almost immediately, playing it second.
The band's second full-length, Babel, is due out in September, and several of its tracks made the setlist. If your looking for an idea of what to expect, know that this will not be the album that slows this band's momentum. Its songs possess the same locomotive rhythms and sing-along choruses, with melodies like mountain vistas. The quartet seems to be tiring of the sort of start-quiet-end-loud structure found on most of the first album, and the new stuff seems to be a bit heavier on keys and lighter on various instruments that twang. Though I'm making generalizations about intent -- at least one of the new ones has been appearing on setlists for well over two years. On stage, the four were charming and affable, clearly thrilled to be in Dixon. They thanked the other bands on the bill like fans rather than co-workers. They brought out Jerry Douglas for a couple songs (including a genuinely beautiful cover of "The Boxer") , calling him Uncle Jerry. Lovett implored the crowd to stick around for the Very Best, playing immediately afterward across the field. "They truly are the very, very best," he said. "They shit on every band that's played today. In the face."
And so Mumford and Sons took the day's victory lap, under warm lighting by the side of the Rock River. The 90 minute set ended with a three song encore comprising the band's best song ("Winter Winds"), its second biggest hit ("The Cave") and members of every band but the Very Best (setting up across the field) on a rendition of "With a Little Help From My Friends." Obvious? Yes, absolutely. That risk hasn't seemed to stop Mumford and Sons yet, and we should be grateful this band doesn't much care what I or you or anyone else thinks.
"Long live Dixon, Illinois," said Marcus Mumford. "Sorry about the mess."
Mumford & Sons Gentlemen of the Road Dixon Stopover Setlist
Lover's Eyes Little Lion Man I Will Wait White Blank Page Timshel Roll Away Your Stone Lover of the Light Thistle & Weed Ghosts That We Knew The Boxer with Jerry Douglas (Simon & Garfunkel cover) Awake My Soul with Jerry Douglas Beneath My Feet Dust Bowl Dance Encore Winter Winds The Cave With a Little Help From My Friends with basically the entire day's lineup (The Beatles cover)