Elbow + Jimi Goodwin @ Birmingham LG Arena – 5th April 2014
These days, with these stadium gigs, Elbow both enthrall me and bring out the curmudgeon in me in equal measure.
Don’t get me wrong; I am a fan of Elbow but my inner music snob doesn’t really accept that this is where they should be in 2014. The chorus of One Day Like This ring tones on the inbound train is testament to the dilemma faced by long term snobby fans like me. But as the bloke said “like they care”! I seem to be in the minority. It’s not a surprise that the less edgy and difficult the songs, the more popular Elbow have become.
Things that I like about them in 2014: I like the new album. It’s no Leaders Of The Free World, but it’s up there with the rest. I like the fact that they have the recognition that they deserve after years in “the business” and with that hopefully comes the rewards. They are supremely talented musicians and in “Sir Guy of” Garvey they have one of the major personalities in British music. He is a force of nature and the main reason the band can carry off gigs of this size at all.
For a mardy-so-and-so like me therein lies the problem. The LG Arena is full of people who are effusive in their love of the band, but may never experience the full impact of being a few feet away in the full emotional glare, unless they can get to a pre-tour warm up somewhere, or get in early and stand along the long black tongue of a walkway sticking out into the crowd.
Guy Garvey has a presence and warmth that can envelope and even overpower a crowd but he needed to have the thermostat turned up to eleven to reach the back of a space like this one. I’ve seen them being something special in smaller venues and no matter how hard they try it’s hard to reproduce this in a barn. But I’m glad to say they pulled it off, as they have many times before.
The beneficiary of all this stadium-level popularity should be the support act. Not that he needed any real help. There were more than a few shouts for Jimi Goodwin. Doves and Elbow grew up together and these days in songwriting and production terms Elbow and Jimi are joined at the hip, so he is hardly a stranger.
His set was all his own stuff and he didn’t disappoint. There were no crowd pleasing Doves songs but he went down well. People knew his set shouting out for the songs like Didsbury Girl- “have you been reading my diary?” Doves were always three equal parts; now this is his band. He was in the spotlight, and seemed a bit nervous but he needn’t have worried. One mention that he had written Panic Tree with Mr Garvey and he was on a winner.
For me the set seemed short but after all he was the support, and as he left he assured us we would have a magical time with Elbow. So was it? Magical I mean.
Well Sir Guy had the crowd eating out of his hand from the first raised glass. They followed his every mood, lapped up every word, offered him their drinks and clapped, whistled and sang along to his every command. Guy had all the patter, asking if anyone was there on a first date all because Elbow were known to be a bunch of “big soft lads”, and going into unnecessary detail about male moisturising. A few strong lads conjured up a piano at the end of the walkway so that Guy and the Potter brothers could get nearer to the audience, just one example of playing the crowd. Like I said they can pull off a gig of this size with no problem.
But that’s just the showmanship. The real magic was something different.
The pundits have Sir Guy down as being in the midst of some mid-life crisis, a single man apart, surrounded by a band of family men, seemingly intent on increasing the population of the North West quadruple-handed and who are homesick from gig number one, as Guy was more than happy to tell us.. They have him down as someone who has forgotten how to write cheerful songs as he has hit 40. These London Press “experts” need to understand that Seldom Seen Kid is the exception to the rule in Elbow land and there was a lot before that and a whole lot more since.
All their output can be dour, arch, thought provoking, tear inducing and at its best can produce reactions from nowhere. The opening bars of Great Expectations is a prime example; grown men were seen to have tears in their eyes, all probably thinking “how did that happen?”. That is the real connection that this band have always had with their fans, even back in the days of Newborn and Asleep In The Back, and not the sing-along arm waving.
The only pity is that the history of Elbow has been re-written so that there is very little recognition of that early back catalogue these days. The Birds and My Sad Captains made up for it though. As Jimi predicted; magical.
Intro (This Blue World)
The Bones of You
Fly Boy Blue / Lunette
Real Life (Angel)
The Night Will Always Win
New York Morning
The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver
The Blanket Of Night
Grounds for Divorce
My Sad Captains
One Day Like This
Photographs — Stephanie Colledge
Words — Ian Gelling