Two of the Nine Hundred

Today my blog entry has nothing to do with fantasy or geek-things. It’s about the Mumford & Sons concert I went to this week.

A month and a half ago, my husband Pat and I sat poised at a computer, waiting impatiently to strike. We knew we needed to be quick on the draw when the clock hit 1 p.m. The prize? Tickets to Mumford & Sons for their Laramie,Wyoming performance on Aug. 21. The competition? Anyone who wanted one of the 900 tickets going on sale. That’s right – only 900 tickets. And we got two of them.

Pat and I, while we are huge music lovers with very eclectic tastes, rarely go to concerts. But we had heard that Mumford & Sons puts on a great show and since we really enjoy their music and they were actually playing in Laramie, we decided we wanted to see them.

The 900 seat venue where they were playing is the Gryphon Theatre, whichis housed in the Laramie Plains Civic Center. This red-brick building, which takes up exactly one square block, started life many, many years ago as the high school. Eventually, the high school got a new building, and the old building became the junior high school. A little over thirty years ago, the junior high moved, and the building began its slow transformation into the Civic Center. The Gryphon Theatre is actually the old auditorium. (It will seat 900 people, if you include the balcony and added seats in the orchestra pit and at the back.) Murals grace the walls, and the place has been restored with an eye to a graceful historical look.

On the evening of Aug. 21, we queued up with a large crowd of people outside the Civic Center about 5; the show was scheduled to start at 7:30. The line was friendly, with lots of talking and lots of pizzas and sandwiches being delivered – good business for the local delivery places. Nearly everyone had a cellphone out, and I imagine a lot of people were doing what I was doing – boasting on Facebook about having tickets. The lines we waited in to pick up our tickets (most of the tickets were will-call) were organized well, and we were soon stamping and mooing  – I mean packed cellphone-to-cellphone – just outside the theatre doors.

Pat and  I were in the minority in the crowd; the 50-something demographic was not well represented. (I like to think it that was the 50-somethings with good taste in music and fast computers who were there.) We got seats about 15 rows back, near the middle. In any other venue it would have been spectacular to be that close; as it was, they were average seats because all of the seats were good. The tall guy with the great posture did sit in front of me, as usual. (I asked him if he could maybe be a little bit shorter, but, alas, he said that he couldn’t change his height.) It ended up not mattering when Mumford and & Sons took the stage, because we were all on our feet for the rest of the show.

The opening act was Slow Club, a British folk rock band. I enjoyed their performance – I considered it to be more folk than rock. They were fun to listen to. They were followed by Nathaniel Rateliff, a musician with a powerful voice and a good sound.

Finally, Mumford & Sons took the stage. With light still straining through the slightly open doors at the back of the stage (opening to the street outside – it had to be nice to have at least a tiny amount of air stirring on that stage), they started to play.

And what a show! They didn’t just play their music, they performed, and they poured energy into the performance. It was incredible. The whole experience – lights, music, fog, everything – was choreographed for maximum effect, and it worked very well.

The altitude in Laramie (7220 feet, or about a mile and a half above sea level) did prompt a few remarks from the band, and I’m sure made it a lot more work for them to perform, but they still gave it their all. (When he introduced the encore’s second song, Mumford said it needed to be the last song, because they couldn’t do any more – they had thought they were going to collapse half-way through the show. Those of us who live here understood. The altitude takes people that way.)

Because the theatre is so small (they kept referring to it as a room, which really wasn’t far off the mark; they’ve probably played rooms that were bigger than the theatre), we got a special treat. Mumford & Sons performed one of their songs completely unplugged – just their voices and one acoustic guitar, no amps at all. This showcased just how beautifully their voices harmonize. Wow.

The band performed a mix of old favorites from Sigh No More, and new songs from their upcoming album, Babel. From what we heard, Babel should be just as good as their first album.

After the final encore performance, we filed back out into the cool Laramie night. Everyone was talking about how great the show had been. It was an unforgettable night of music.

If you ever get a chance to see Mumford & Sons in person, take it – you won’t be disappointed.

Jane W. Wolfinbarger ©2012

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Of Heroes and the Batman – A No-Spoiler Review of The Dark Knight Rises

We went to see The Dark Knight Rises this week, my comic-book-geek husband and I.

I had anticipated enjoying it, and I really did. It was a very-well-done conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy. While you can certainly see The Dark Knight Rises as a stand-alone movie, it makes much more sense if you see the other two first, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

was interested in this incarnation of Batman to begin with. Having been married to a DC Comics fan for 33 years, I am familiar with variations on the Batman theme, and the Dark Knight has always been, well, the darkest of these.  

That’s not to say he isn’t still the Batman and a compelling figure, because he is. I think this particular version, which Christian Bale has played so well, is the most human interpretation of Batman. You don’t just thrill to see him coming to the rescue, you hurt with him and sometimes you want to shake him and tell him to stop being so much like the rest of humanity and be the hero you want him to be. 

There’s plenty of action in the movie, of course, to make those of us who love action flicks interested. It has nail-biting tension and fantastic technology. But the heroes of the film are shown as human beings, with their feet of clay exposed for all the world to see. They have made and do make mistakes and poor choices, just like the rest of us. They do things they regret doing. And yet, they rise above that. They do what they can to make things right again. 

None of the main characters, either good and bad, are simply  comic-book, one-dimensional characters, despite their comic-book origins. They all have depth of character, and we get a glimpse into their motivations. We see how hardship can mold either heroes or villains, depending on how the individual involved chooses to react to those hardships. In many ways, the movie is about choices made, and the results of those choices. 

I came away from the movie with one line in particular echoing in my thoughts, one that I hope will be remembered by everyone who sees the movie. It reminds us that not only are the huge, highly visible heroic acts important, the small everyday kindnesses are, too. Batman, the doer of the huge heroic deeds, states, “A hero can be anyone, even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hasn’t ended.” Something we all do well to remember.