There are releases, and then there are releases. And minutes into their concert Wednesday at Amalie Arena, Mumford and Sons gave Tampa the latter.
"Only took us 10 years, but we're here," singer Marcus Mumford told more than 12,800 fans who'd been clamoring for a show for the band's entire lifespan. "And there's nowhere else we'd rather be."
And with that, out came the banjos and stand-up bass and the joyously bellowed refrains of Little Lion Man, punctuated midway through with a powerful pop and maelstrom of white confetti.
"It's been this long," Mumford said. "We better make the most of it."
If the sepia-soaked stomp-rock the Mumfords helped popularize early this decade now feels a smidge dated -- the Avett Brothers and Lumineers have since broadened their sounds as well -- the group’s winning Tampa debut did wonders showcasing why it worked so well in the first place.
The Grammy-winning Brits came to dominate the 2010s’ festival circuit because those big ol' banjo-breakers engender a real sense of community, of we're-in-this-right-now love and harmony. And after a week-plus of Hurricane Irma-related concert cancellations, with an open floor of fans howling and hopping as if in the Glastonbury mud, it felt a little like that in Tampa.
"We know you've had a hard couple of weeks, and we've been thinking about you a lot," Mumford said. "We're really glad you're okay, and we're really glad to come be with you."
With that, he played Ghosts That We Knew and Where Are You Now, two tender, acoustic parcels of holistic folk. Pin-drop moments like these, when the arena filled with the group’s four harmonious voices, and those of the thousands around them, are why the Church of Mumford exists, and why its followers have waited so long for baptism.
But 10 years is a long time, and the Mumford and Sons Tampa finally got was different than the one the world first fell in love with. The band plugged in and went electric on their last album, 2015’s Wilder Mind, and Mumford’s rock-star theatrics today match that upscaled sound. For the, triumphant Ditmas, he leaped off the stage and lapped the arena, plunging into the crowd with a goofy grin on his face. And the main set ended with a shower of sparks and smoke on the turbulent Dust Bowl Dance.
While Mumford steered the music with his frantic guitar and kickdrum, and guitarist-banjoist Winston Marshall and keyboardist Ben Lovett pushed the band just as hard, the star of the show was often Ted Dwayne, whose bass hummed and rumbled through the band’s moody plugged-in numbers – Blind Leading the Blind, Tompkins Square Park, Believe. The band’s U2 influence was evident on these stadium-sized numbers, especially on closer The Wolf, which careened to a close in a hail of fireworks and smoke.
But the group never ditched the old Dust Bowl routine for too long. From the swelling hearts of familiar oldies Holland Road and Awake My Soul to Mumford and Lovett engaging in a little stomp-and-jig on Roll Away Your Stone, the band’s rootsy roots couldn’t help but show. Scaling a second stage the size of a kiddie pool in the encore, Mumford begged for “f---ing quiet” – far too many hooting and hollering Tampans did not oblige – as the band harmonized into a single microphone on the impossibly intimate Timshel.
“You’re good people, Tampa, Florida,” Mumford said. “Sorry it took us so long to come, but we’re so glad we came.”
The feeling was plenty mutual, judging from the fists pumping and bodies bouncing on the packed arena floor. As the band ripped through their euphoric signature single The Cave, their singer toying with its surging emotional swings, the cannons shot off once again, filling the arena with another cloud of white confetti.
The night’s first release was 10 years in the making; the second, about an hour, tops. But for those fans who’ve waited so long, the satisfaction was every bit as sweet.
-- Jay Cridlin