SXSW 2012: Mumford and Sons Doc ‘Big Easy Express’ Brings Festival to a Close
There's nothing like a good 'ol hootenanny, and the British roots band Mumford and Sons, the bluegrass-leaning Old Crow Medicine Show, and, especially, the happy-hippy collective Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes couldn't agree more: a year ago, the trio of bands travelled on a short tour by train, making music together not only in front of packed audiences along the way, but nearly 24-hours a day on the train itself. The bands' unrelenting camaraderie has been captured on film, and at the debut of the resulting movie, Big Easy Express, at South By Southwest, you couldn't help but feel the love in the room as Mumford and Edward Sharpe reunited for the first time since that Southern journey.
The film opens with Edward Sharpe's spritely singer Jade Castrinos bounding down the train cars, with each band playing in separate rooms as a huge grin colors her face while she bounces along. Though the movie's lacking in drama (according to all parties, the 100+ people living on the train got along so well that there was none to film, as hard as that is to believe) the travelogue paints an idyllic, nostalgic view of road life, with wistful shots of passing-by vistas and slow-motion montages of the band and their train-side audiences doused in sweat and excitement, an all-inclusive – if sometimes nearly schlocky – celebration of life.
A short, five-song set of music following the debut at the Paramount theater right in the heart of Austin's bustling downtown reached a little more for catharsis, with Mumford & Sons opening up with the new “Where are You Now,” a pensive heartbreak number that's far more inner-turmoil show-burn than aggressive rager. But collaboration ensued after that, with “Roll Away Your Stone” an all-out jam. Edward Sharpe frontman Alex Ebert declared that they were going to play something new as well, breaking out “I Don't Want to Pray,” which sound ripped from the '30s of “Oh Brother Where Art Thou;” the only thing missing was a skeezy George Clooney singing into a tin can.
Later the same night, both bands played a MySpace-sponsored show at the campus at the University of Texas at Austin, in a mini-festival setup to thousands of people who had also just watched the movie. And – though certainly production touches and full sets made it feel more like a regular show than the intimate, short concert at the end of the earlier screening – the same spirit embodied the night. Near the close of their set, Mumford and Sons invited onstage Austin High School's marching band, who also play with them in the film, onstage for “The Cave”. As the band played, singer Marcus Mumford looked on in disbelief: “This is real music,” he declared, exhausted, “played by real people!”
At its core, that's what the entire collaboration – both on the train as it was running, and at these two shows – was all about: real music, played by real people. If some of it's a little precious, well, that's a matter of taste: in this case, you're either on the train, or you're just a sucker for cynically letting it pass you by.