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Mumford & Sons come home to where their Americana came from, and succeed completely

Mumford & Sons come home to where their Americana came from, and succeed completely (photo)

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About a year ago, Marcus Mumford and the backing English trio he calls his Sons could have filled, at best, a small club in Raleigh, the Southern capital named for another Brit, the colonial explorer and sponsor Sir Walter Raleigh. During the past year, though, the band’s become a major commercial force on three continents, with their debut, Sigh No More, going platinum three times at home, once here, once in New Zealand, once in Canada and, again, three times in Australia. In fact, Sigh No More is the first album to go platinum in both the United States and the United Kingdom since Coldplay’s Viva La Vida.

And it’s not only the recorded work that’s pushing them forward: They’re sandwiched between Robert Plant and The Strokes for this weekend’s Bonnaroo festival, and Mumford & Sons recently finished a massive tour by vintage train with fellow Americana miners Edward Sharpe and Old Crow Medicine Show. Needless to say, when they arrived in Raleigh for the first time last night, it was a big deal. The show was sold-out, and a queue of people stood near the box office during the two opening acts, hoping some extra tickets might be released.

In and of itself, the sell-out had to feel like a certain validation for Mumford & Sons. Here they were, an English band playing brusque, bumbling Americana with banjos and acoustic guitars at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains for the first time. It’s sort of tantamount to a brass band flying from Belgrade to New Orleans, a Norwegian rapper making his debut in the Bronx. Mumford & Sons took the sound back to the source and succeeded, with two sell-outs in their first two shows in this state. What’s more, the capacity crowd of about 5,500 knew every word from Sigh No More, and they weren’t afraid to share them. They sang and shouted to the building “Awake My Soul” as though this were an Arcade Fire set, shook and proclaimed during “The Cave” as though this were an all-night dance party. From start to finish, Mumford & Sons sold it back to the sold-out lot of natives.

I was ambivalent about Mumford & Sons until last night. Their songs of love, disgust and the mix thereof have often seemed to lack nuance and subtlety; their tales seemed too generalized, too far removed from narratives and specifics to hold interest. Other critics have lodged empty complaints about authenticity and nostalgia and meaning at Mumford & Sons, but, for me, it’s always been why bother? The Avett Brothers, their closest stylistic kin, live about three hours away from the amphitheater Mumford & Sons played last night; they cut their teeth in a tiny bar just a block away. How many bands like that did I need to know?

But last night won me over entirely. Mumford & Sons play with an essential lack of cool, brandishing an infectious earnestness that’s absolutely convincing. They moved from a song that sounded like Radiohead to a song that sounded like a mountain ballad without hesitation, and the crowd moved right along with them. Their crossover potential is already apparent; I think it might also be infinite. To wit, the band handled the big show with a perfectly casual air, joking with the same level of cocky insobriety you’d expect from a no-name act crowded into the corner of some, small dingy pub. They joked Asheville, the western North Carolina town they’d played the night before, while extoling the state’s mountains-to-sea geography. There is a kinship, explained Country Winston, between his home and ours, thanks to some mix of alcohol, string music and colonialism. The crowd identified, lifting sweaty cans into the humid late spring air and hollering back gratitude for his praise. Their ribaldry suited the crowd’s mood, too, so that when Winston called a backing trio of horn players “beautiful motherfuckers,” he was greeted with laughs and cheers. It was as if he were an old friend introducing you to new friends at a party. It felt familiar and warm.

Those horn players offered another bit of validation for Mumford’s sudden rise to fame: Even with that addition and the occasional help of a Texas fiddle player, the quartet clung to its hardscrabble core of four, building outward from its clanging Americana foundation. The Avett Brothers have similarly annexed their personnel in recent years, and it’s sometimes been an awkward, unstable fit that seemed forced, the type of move a once-small band felt it had to make in order to meet its growing audience. Even on the handful of new tunes they played, Mumford & Sons only seemed to add these extra elements because they thought it would sound better, not because it needed to sound different or somehow bigger. The spotlight remained, then, on their personalities and on their songs. Given the response of the audience last night in Raleigh–and, in turn, the response of Mumford & Sons to that audience–I expect it will for a long time to come.

Have you seen Mumford & Sons live? What did you think?

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Thank Azaria

Best. Characters. Ever.

Our favorite Hank Azaria characters.

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GIFs via Giphy

Hank Azaria may well be the most prolific voice and character actor of our time. The work he’s done for The Simpsons alone has earned him a permanent place in the pop culture zeitgeist. And now he’s bringing another character to the mainstream: a washed-up sports announcer named Jim Brockmire, in the aptly titled new series Brockmire.

We’re looking forward to it. So much so that we want to look backward, too, with a short-but-sweet retrospective of some of Azaria’s important characters. Shall we begin?

Half The Recurring Simpsons Characters

He’s Comic Book Guy. He’s Chief Wiggum. He’s Apu. He’s Cletus. He’s Snake. He’s Superintendent Chalmers. He’s the Sea Captain. He’s Kurt “Can I Borrow A Feeling” Van Houten. He’s Professor Frink. He’s Carl. And he’s many more. But most importantly he’s Moe Szyslak, the staple character Azaria has voiced since his very first audition for The Simpsons.

Oh, and He’s Frank Grimes

For all the regular Simpsons characters Azaria has played over the years, his most brilliant performance may have been a one-off: Frank Grimes, the scrappy bootstrapper who worked tirelessly all his life for honest, incremental, and easily-undermined success. Azaria’s portrayal of this character was nuanced, emotional, and simply magical.

Patches O’Houlihan

Dodgeball is a “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” as Hank Azaria generously points out in his brief but crucial cameo in Dodgeball. That’s sage wisdom. Try applying his “five D’s” to your life on and off the court and enjoy the results.

Harold Zoid

Of Futurama fame. The crazy uncle of Dr. Zoidberg, Harold Zoid was once a lion (or lobster) of the silver screen until Smell-o-vision forced him into retirement.

Agador

The Birdcage was significant for many reasons, and the comic genius of Hank Azaria’s character “Agador” sits somewhere towards the top of that list. If you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you.

Gargamel

Nobody else could make a live-action Gargamel possible.

Ed Cochran

From Ray Donovan. Great character, great last name [editorial note: the author of this article may be bias].

Kahmunra, The Thinker, Abe Lincoln

All in the Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, a file that let Azaria flex his voice acting and live-action muscles in one fell swoop.

The Blue Raja

Mystery Men has everything, including a fatal case of Smash Mouth. Azaria’s iconic superhero makes the shortlist of redeemable qualities, though.

Dr. Huff

Huff put Azaria in a leading role, and it was good. So good that there is no good gif of it. Internet? More like Inter-not.

Learn more about Hank Azaria’s newest claim to fame right here, and don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Flame Out

Brockmire and Other Public Implosions

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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There’s less than a month until the Brockmire premiere, and to say we’re excited would be an insulting understatement. It’s not just that it stars Hank Azaria, who can do no wrong (and yes, that’s including Mystery Men, which is only cringeworthy because of Smash Mouth). It’s that the whole backstory of the titular character, Jim Brockmire, is the stuff of legends. A one-time iconic sportscaster who won the hearts of fans and players alike, he fell from grace after an unfortunate personal event triggered a seriously public meltdown. See for yourself in the NSFW Funny or Die digital short that spawned the IFC series:

See? NSFW and spectacularly catastrophic in a way that could almost be real. Which got us thinking: What are some real-life sports fails that have nothing to do with botched athletics and everything to do with going tragically off script? The internet is a dark and dirty place, friends, but these three examples are pretty special and mostly safe for work…

Disgruntled Sports Reporter

His co-anchor went offsides and he called it like he saw it.

Jim Rome vs Jim “Not Chris” Everett

You just don’t heckle a professional athlete when you’re within striking distance. Common sense.

Carl Lewis’s National Anthem

He killed it! As in murdered. It’s dead.

To see more moments just like these, we recommend spending a day in your pajamas combing through the muckiness of the internet. But to see something that’s Brockmire-level funny without having to clear your browser history, check out the sneak peeks and extras here.

Don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Mirror, Mirror

Portlandia Season 7 In Hindsight

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available Online and on the IFC App.

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Another season of Portlandia is behind us, and oh what a season it was. We laughed. We cried. And we chuckled uncomfortably while glancing nervously around the room. Like every season before it, the latest Portlandia has held a mirror up to ridiculousness of modern American life, but more than ever that same mirror has reflected our social reality in ways that are at once hysterical and sneakily thought-provoking. Here are just a few of the issues they tackled:

Nationalism

So long, America, Portland is out! And yes, the idea of Portland seceding is still less ludicrous than building a wall.

Men’s Rights

We all saw this coming. Exit gracefully, dudes.

Protests

Whatever you stand for, stand for it together. Or with at least one other person.

Free Love

No matter who we are or how we love, deep down we all have the ability to get stalky.

Social Status

Modern self-esteem basically hinges on likes, so this isn’t really a stretch at all.

These moments are just the tip of the iceberg, and much more can be found in the full seventh season of #Portlandia, available right now #online and on the #IFC app.

via GIPHY

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