London-based folk-rock troubadours Mumford and Sons took their turn to entertain the Yas crowds on Saturday, following a final day's practice for the big race that resulted in Valtteri Bottas pipping his teammate and F1 champion Lewis Hamilton to pole position.
The Banjo-toting Mumfords were somewhat the wild card among this year's headline acts, reminiscent conceptually, if not musically, of 2013's (successful) off-the-wall decision to invite industrial-electro grind merchants Depeche Mode to close proceedings at the annual pop and petrol party.
Admittedly, the Mumfords have achieved number one albums on both sides of the Atlantic, but still, they hardly have the same household name cache as Sunday's closer Pink, even in the Mumford household.
It was intriguing to see how things would work out for the cockney folksters then, particularly after two nights of commercial radio-friendly pop noodlings courtesy of Calvin Harris and J Cole. On entering a sparsely populated du Arena at about 7pm we did start to wonder if the relative obscurity of the night's headliner could be about to have an adverse effect, and you did have to feel for the hapless MC, reduced to hollering “DJ drop that beat” and “Let me hear you” to a bewildered audience of 10, but the cavernous arena slowly filled up and it was a vibrant scene by the time the Mumfords took over to get things rocking, gently.
The band made the wise decision to drop possibly their best-known track, Little Lion Man, within minutes of coming onstage, and that seemed to serve the required "pulling in a potentially unfamiliar crowd" purpose. The set ran on with a warm double bass filling the arena, and bursts of banjo and violin keeping feet moving. That said, as one unfamiliar track fed into another, there was a definite lull as the audience became more concerned with chatting and checking their phones than the mildly obscure folk-rock unfolding before them. The band pulled it back at the end of the set as they pulled the "other one everyone knew," on this occasion I Will Wait, but the strain had shown a little as the mid-section of their set mostly lost all around.
Mumford and Sons were definitely a strange choice of F1 headliners. They still managed to pack the venue, eventually, but you couldn't call their visit an unqualified success. When their swirling folk-rock worked, it definitely worked. When it didn't, WhatsApp's shares probably spiked as 17,000 bored punters checked on who was up for sharing a taxi.
The Abu Dhabi Formula One After-Race concert series wraps up with Pink on November 26 at the du Arena, Yas Island. Doors are open from 6pm. Access to the shows is only available for those purchasing tickets for the corresponding race day. Tickets are available online at www.yasmarinacircuit.com, through the Yas Marina Circuit Call Centre (800 927) or +971 (0) 2 659 9800.