Ahh Elbow. It’s like meeting old friends, or maybe like coming home to a large family; one with a big lovely Dad. It’s a weird phenomenon, this power of Guy Garvey. A good percentage of the crowd tonight were older than the core band members, and that’s saying something, but Guy is the leader, the Dad, looking after everyone, making sure they have enough to drink, feeling not too hot, not too cold, on this the coldest of first evenings of Spring.
So – Elbow returned to the kind of venue where you really can almost reach out and touch Sir Guy of Garvey. Whether the days of arenas full of 30-something couples swaying along to the hits from The Seldom Seen Kid have gone or not remains to be seen. In fact the couple behind me had a row about why other couples held on to each other but the “he” was standoffish. More power to him I say. Maybe the tide has turned. Music, and in particular the majority of Elbow’s output, is a serious business.
The fact is that as a band they come over much better in somewhere like the Academy. Sir Guy may be able to charm the birds down from the trees, but too often in the barns it comes over as The Guy Garvey show; pleasant as that may be. It understates what a tremendous instrumental group Elbow actually are under all the “singing and pissing about” as Guy called it; and there was a fair bit of “pissing about”.
Oggie! Oggie! Oggie!, getting the crowd to sing the Close Encounters tone sequence and even to chime “Reeeeves”, every time the new drummer Alex Reeves was mentioned. That was a change. No Richard Jupp, the 25 year stalwart of the band who decided to up and leave before the writing session that led to the latest album Little Fictions. Alex is a fine drummer but like when any band loses a long term member Elbow look like someone who has lost a limb; functioning perfectly well, but not quite whole.
There have been other changes. The perennial bachelor Sir Guy is now married, to actress Rachel Stirling, and about to become a real Dad. This gave sharp focus to the “I’m having a baby” line in Fly Boy Blue, which received a cheer from the well informed crowd. Tonight we had a concentration of fans as opposed to just people who like the tunes. Guy made a fuss of noticing regulars on the barrier and before the gig you could hear people telling tales about past gigs, less attended by all but the faithful, the days before The Seldom Seen Kid and songs about curtains being thrown wide. In a venue like the Academy the band and audience were more like pals; the crowd more like supporters than admirers.
Three albums on from their biggest success and the set showcased the whole range that Elbow have in their locker. The marvellous Great Expectations was the only representative of the early days but there was enough of the more difficult new material to suit the purist. The fans are the people who appreciate the depth of the tunes; the complexity. In a setting like tonight’s it becomes less of a music hall event and more of a gig. Of course they can’t resist the sing-along stuff but this was tempered by the new songs and the more wistful songs like Lippy Kids.
Of the new songs All Disco had a real Walker Brothers feel to it and the penultimate song of the formal set, Magnificent (She Says) is the One Day Like This equivalent. Expect the crowd to have it word perfect by the next tour. My Sad Captains, the obligatory One Day Like This, and a fine new tune Kindling ushered us out of the wrapping of Sir Guy’s big warm blanket and onto the cold drizzly Queensway.
Just one final observation about people in gigs: Elbow came out first and sang a song most people didn’t know so they decided to talk over it, like it was interval music or something. Weird. It’s a top tune Gentle Storm. Maybe they’ll get the album for Mothers Day or Easter. They’ll know it next time.
Elbow Set List
The Bones Of You
Fly Boy Blue/Lunette
New York Morning
Magnificent (She Says)
Grounds For Divorce
My Sad Captains
One Day Like This
Words: Ian Gelling
Photographs: Stephanie Colledge