Mumford & Sons - Barclays Center - 2/6/13

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Better than: It's cool to admit, apparently.

I honestly don't understand the voracious hatred some have for Mumford & Sons. I get that banjos/mandolins/dobros aren't for everyone: there is no law that says you have to like fiddles and boots-as-percussion instruments, same as there isn't one that requires you enjoy heavy metal or doo-wop or techno. I can see why one look at how they dress, from their suspenders to their waistcoats to their weathered wingtips, could easily lead to thinking that it's all for the sake of buying into the alt-folk image. I'd believe you if you said you'd puncture your own eardrums with the nearest stabby object if you heard "Little Lion Man" one more time, and I wouldn't fault you for thinking that it's weird that an English band got nominated for an Americana Grammy. Still: since when has wardrobe, genre or radio airplay served as stand-alone criteria for dubbing a band as a good or bad one? Why can't their talent, lyrical strength and overall musical aptitude cut them some slack, seeing as the songs themselves aren't worthy of sonic exile? What's wrong with just writing Mumford & Sons off as "It's fine, just not my thing" vs. "Dude screw all of that Civil War/half-ass folk revival shit!"?

See also: Oddsmaking: Will Mumford & Sons Upset "Rolling In The Deep" In The Grammys' Record Of The Year Race?

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Hot 100 Roundup: Taylor Swift's Kiss-Off To Country, Mumford & Sons' Folkie Rave, And More

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Editors' note: Each week in this space, chart-watcher Robert Myers will offer his reactions to all the new entries on the Hot 100, Billboard's big board for popular songs.

Late August on the pop charts used to be what I called the summer doldrums—almost the entire music industry went on vacation, resting up for the autumn onslaught of new releases. Now that singles have re-established themselves as the major form of product, though, and the promotion cycle is faster and more omnipresent than ever, there's no telling when a major star is going to drop something big. So this week we get new Taylor Swift, new Mumford & Sons, and even something new from country, the genre that still holds closest to the old ways (I mean Jake Owen). No one gets a vacation anymore.

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Live: The Secret Policeman's Ball Speaks Freely At Radio City Music Hall

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The big finish.
The Secret Policeman's Ball: Coldplay, Mumford & Sons, Russell Brand, Eddie Izzard, and many others
Radio City Music Hall
Sunday, March 4

Better than: Watching the Lohan Saturday Night Live on DVR.

Going to a live show that's actually meant to be broadcast on television can be a deadly proposition—commercial-mandated downtime, feeling trapped in the venue, reshots. But last night's Secret Policeman's Ball, the American debut of the long-running Amnesty International benefit organized by Monty Python, was a speedy, frothy affair with a few standout performances by comics from across the pond. Packed with celebrities (Liam Neeson! Jon Stewart! Paul Rudd! Statler & Waldorf!) and designed for the Twitter age, the show moved along at a crisp pace, with the comedy touching on the idea of speaking freely both bluntly and abstractly.

The night started with a blessing of sorts from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who noted to the assembled (and those watching on TV) that "the noble and honorable thing to do [was] to find [the night's performers] funny"; from there Eddie Izzard took the stage, and while his ruminations on there not being a God (the proof: Hitler not having his head flicked off by a giant Monty Python-style hand) seemed to make the audience a bit nervous, his extended riff on why Latin is a dead language had them back in his hand. And the show sped on, with British and American comedians cycling into and out of the spotlight, Statler & Waldorf providing the requisite amount of heckling, and Monty Python members appearing via video to provide the same excuse about why they weren't present.

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Oddsmaking: Will Mumford & Sons Upset "Rolling In The Deep" In The Grammys' Record Of The Year Race?

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Every year, when I get involved in Grammy debates with my cooler friends, I tell them the problem with the awards isn't that they reward mass-appeal schlock. If the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is doing its job right, it should be rewarding popular, undeniable, and somewhat unhip records. The problem is that NARAS can't even reward the popular stuff right.

Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the Record of the Year category, which, next to the coveted, show-closing Album of the Year prize, should be the marquee award of the night. If NARAS were on its game, it would nominate five high-gloss, career-defining singles that crushed at Top 40, R&B/hip-hop, country or rock radio and then give the big prize to a title that makes everyone say, Yeah, okay, love it or hate it, that record dominated.

Instead, Record of the Year has largely become a head-scratching nonevent, in which NARAS, like a middlebrow missile, homes in on a song that's neither hip enough to be a critics' favorite nor undeniable enough to appeal to the casual TV viewership. Just in the last decade, NARAS has given you such Records of the Year as the Dixie Chicks' most atonal and bile-filled single; two little-heard "event" duets by Ray Charles with Norah Jones, and Robert Plant and Allison Krauss; and a U2 song some like to call a "9/11 anthem," ignoring the fact that anthems are usually widely known and this song came out a year before the tragedy and missed the Hot 100, not even charting after 9/11. Even some of the better RotY picks have been wrongheaded—I happen to like Coldplay's "Clocks," winner in 2004, but over OutKast's "Hey Ya!" and BeyoncĂ©'s "Crazy in Love"? Way to miss the plot, NARAS. (I wish YouTube had a clip from the '04 show of presenter and friend-of-OutKast Mary J. Blige, visibly deflating when she opened the envelope and read "Clocks," like the word was "broccoli.")

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Oddsmaking: Will Adele Go "Rolling" Over Her Song Of The Year Competition?

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The Grammys have a determinedly behind-the-times history, and Song of the Year is one of the ceremony's most reliably old-fashioned categories. It's given to the songwriter—even though what constitutes a "song" today is a lot different than when the Grammys began in 1959, back when sheet music was still a major music-biz income source. Usually the nominations overlap heavily with Record of the Year (which is given to artist and producer), with a couple of differences, sometimes confusing ones. (Take 2010—since when was BeyoncĂ©'s "Halo" more of a "record" and "Single Ladies" more of a "song"?) This year, the category seems like as much of a straight shot as the other Big 3 (Album and Record). But as with everything the Grammys do, from picking the nominees to putting on a show, there's always the possibility of surprise—last year looked like it belonged to Eminem, and he got shut out. It's highly doubtful that'll happen to Adele, whose "Rolling In The Deep" is nominated here, but with Grammy, you truly never know.


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Justin Bieber Is Your New Chart Overlord

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Good news: The music industry is starting to sell more records in 2011. Bad news: They're Now compilations and Justin Bieber remix records. The latter takes Billboard's top spot from the former this week, with Never Say Never: The Remixes selling a brisk 161,000 copies, and why not, since Never Say Never: The Movie is such a hoot. At #2, we see a continued robust Grammy bounce . . . for Mumford and Sons. Yes, that mega-rasping hoedown clusterfuck with Bob Dylan won people over. Imagine if they'd won Album of the Year.


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Live: Mumford & Sons, Raspily Emoting At Bowery Ballroom

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Bowery Ballroom
Thursday, February 18

"You can't clap for shit, man," notes Marcus Mumford with a grin, and verily are the Bowery Ballroom faithful's attempts at audience participation fairly disastrous -- no rhythm, no timing, no hope. In truth our enthusiasm almost completely derails another of Mumford & Sons' (by available visual evidence this quartet's name is a joke) robust Brit power-folk anthems, but Marcus' forceful bellow cuts expertly through the clatter. Dude is raspy. "I'm sorrrrrrrry," he intones, like a chainsaw cutting a bus in half. He must be talking to his lungs.

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