“Dave’s not here so we can do whatever we want,” declared Marcus Mumford as his band, Mumford & Sons, ripped into its Live on Letterman taping on the famed Late Night set Friday (September 21) evening. “Whatever they want” isn’t as mischievous as one would think, as the folk-rockers stuck to playing through songs off their sophomore album, Babel, released this week. 

Despite noting that they’re still “awkward as hell over this stuff,” Mumford and co. enthralled the small crowd of fans at New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater. Deeming themselves the “poorer version of the Beatles,” Mumford & Sons acknowledged the history of the venue and their fellow Brits who made their debut there way back in 1964. And the banter didn’t end there. After being egged on by banjo player Winston Marshall, Mumford made fun of his signature look of a vest, white shirt, big belt buckle, boots and tight pants (“I come from a long line of gentleman that decided what they were gonna wear the rest of their lives when they were 13”).

(Photo courtesy CBS IMG)

Joined by brass players, the band kicked off the taping with current single “I Will Wait,” followed by “Roll Away Your Stone,” a Sigh No More track Mumford called a “dancing song.” For the new song “Lovers’ Eyes,” which the band revisited later in the taping, Mumford snapped a guitar string and, by the time the song ended, was screaming at the top of his lungs.

Another new song, “Whispers in the Dark,” saw the band battling technical difficulties but ultimately ended with all four members harmonizing stunningly. The group mixed the handful of new songs – also including “Below My Feet” and “Ghosts That We Knew” – with its rollicking breakout hit “The Cave,” which got the crowd on its feet and clapping in a triumphant highlight of the set. 

(Photo courtesy CBS IMG)

“Lover of the Light,” also off Babel, saw Mumford take to the drum set for jazzy percussion. He returned to his usual post for “Little Lion Man,” another Sigh No More favorite and total crowd-pleaser, and ended things with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” The banjo-fied cover wouldn’t make the cut for Live on Letterman, but Mumford seemed set on it: “We’re gonna play it because we’re in New York.” 

– Jillian Mapes, CBS Local