SAN FRANCISCO — One year, they were playing Popscene to a couple hundred people. Fast forward a decade, and they were being handed the John Steinbeck Award by two of the Bay Area’s premier higher learning institutions. Such is the rise of London folk rock band Mumford & Sons, whose growth could be measured in their Bay Area shows over the years, from a tour on a classic train to the Greek Theatre to headlining Outside Lands, and Thursday, headlining the new Chase Center.
The quartet, backed by as many as five other musicians at a time, had a relatively simple stage production, save for some programmed light banks that swung about the band to create various patterns. For most of the show, Marcus Mumford, Winston Marshall, Ben Lovett and Ted Dwane were bathed in white or soft yellow light, and plenty of fog to obscure their faces. The band kicked off the performance with “Guiding Light,” one of seven songs from 2018 album Delta to make an appearance.
Following the explosive intro, the four moved to a B-stage connected to the main stage by a catwalk for “Little Lion Man” and “Babel.” This smaller space was roughly the size of the first stages the band played in the U.S. in the late aughts. Mumford & Sons seemed to pay homage to those years with tight arrangements and performances that relied on the band members’ harmonies.
Mumford was clearly in his happy place behind the drum kit for “Lover of the Light,” from 2012’s Babel. At that point in the show, a curtain was pulled back to reveal even more banks of lights that somehow seemed underused once uncovered. “Tompkins Square Park,” from 2015’s Wilder Mind, began with searing guitar solo by Marshall. Another fan-created highlight came during “Believe,” during which cell phone flashlights turned the room into a galaxy of stars. While other concerts at Chase had similar displays over the first couple of weeks since the venue’s opening, this was the first time it was truly pulled off en masse. A wall of sparklers provided yet another bang during the song’s crescendo.
A peculiar thing happened before the performance of new cut “Rose of Sharon,” as Mumford spoke about performing at Stanford the previous night: A sizable amount of fans—Cal fans?—actually booed him, which got the frontman to say he doesn’t play collegial politics other than liking Ohio State and quarterback Justin Fields because he got hooked on Netflix reality show QB1, about football recruits. This, of course, earned him some more boos.
Early hits “The Cave” and “Roll Away Your Stone” were fan favorites and featured singalongs. Mumford & Sons had several tricks up their sleeves to make the room seem smaller for such intimate cuts. Lowering the light platforms above them to create the appearance of a smaller space was one of them. Then on “Ditmas,” Mumford hopped off the stage, ran alongside the floor and then climbed the stairs at the back all the way to the top of the lower section
A couple of songs later, on Delta’s most forward-thinking track, “Darkness Visible,” crescendoed in retina-scorching pyrotechnics. Though in a live setting, some of the song’s nuance was lost—think of it as Mumford & Sons taking a stab at U2’s Zooropa—it rocked the room out of a lull from two other songs that lacked a similar punch.
Following acoustic takes on “Where Are You Now” and “Awake My Soul,” both performed on the B-stage, Mumford invited David Le’aupepe of opener Gang of Youths back to the stage for a surprise cover of Middle East’s “Blood.” The rocking cover didn’t sound much like the original, but that was just fine.
Mumford & Sons then stepped on the gas to conclude with the barnstorming “I Will Wait” and Delta’s title track, which ended with the stage covered in pink confetti.
At a tour stop in Phoenix several days prior, opener Gang of Youths had to bow out of a performance, which led to the now-well-known story of Mumford & Sons opening for themselves—wearing Halloween costumers and playing covers. At Chase Center frontman Le’aupepe addressed the last-minute cancellation head-on.
The Australian alt-rock band made an admirable effort to energize a room that at that point was still more than half empty. Its seven songs included mainly cuts from 2017 album Go Farther in Lightness, including the title track, “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?” and “The Heart Is a Muscle.” Le’aupepe did his best to rev up the fans, head-banging, climbing into the seated sections of the arena, prancing and twirling sensually. The problem was that his vocals were mostly buried in the mix, making him very difficult to understand.