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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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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