Elbow returned, and in style. It was the first of two sell out shows in Birmingham, and the crowds gathered early to experience a band, who usually play arenas, pack out a 3000 capacity room. Their sell out tour comes off the back of their seventh album “Little Fictions”. Released just under a month ago, the album garnered critical acclaim and reached number one in the U.K.
Support band C Duncan opened the show, and the first thing to note about them is how young they are. An interesting choice for a band whose audience is mid-40s/early 50s and upwards, but nonetheless, they were very well received. Initially, I thought I was mistaken for judging them as ‘just another indie band’, as their first few songs had an intriguing grunge-y twist. But they soon fell into the trap of sounding just like every other indie band in existence.
Their lighting set-up was simple, but worked in their favour: white light beamed down on each member, imprisoning each of them in a cone. Imprisoning is the right word here, as the band were static throughout their entire performance. While they performed their songs well, unfortunately, towards the end of their set, I did find myself wondering whether it would be possible to fall asleep standing up!
Just before nine, the lights dim and Elbow, quite casually, stroll onto the stage. Members Craig Potter (keyboard), Mark Potter (guitar), Pete Turner (bass) and new drummer Alex Reeves enter first, followed by Guy Garvey, who unsurprisingly is the only band member anyone can name. A pub philosopher, bar-room raconteur, he has bear-like charm; raising a beer to the crowd, prompting them to do the same – fitting perfectly into this charming, ‘everyman for our times’ stereotype.
The band launch straight into the first song, a new one, “Gentle Storms”. They are all stood in a line at this point, almost as if to say; “Look at us, we’re back!”. Garvey’s baritone voice washes over the crowd, repeating the refrain, “fall in love with me”, and it is difficult not to.
Although the songs are well received, the crowd are very still, which is possibly symptomatic of the age of the audience, but gives the gig an atmosphere of a party where nobody knows each other. Halfway through the set, Garvey addresses this; teasing the audience, asking; “Why did you come if you don’t wanna piss about with us? You know what’s going on here”. Inevitably after this, people begin to loosen up (apart from the guy stood directly behind me, who was insistent on spending most of the night facing the sound desk, complaining that “this wasn’t how they did it last time”, and trying to tell the sound engineers how to do their job).
The lighting is warm and welcoming throughout, although the reflection of rays of blue and white light from a giant spinning disco-ball, left me feeling confused about whether I was at an Elbow gig, an 80s style high-school dance or an underground electronic rave.
The set is peppered with new songs, which unusually, are the most well received. Other than the classic hits such as “Grounds For Divorce”, and, of course, “One Day Like This”, new single “Magnificent (She Says),” gets the most excitable response from the crowd. This being said; it was a tough call. Despite being uncomfortable at first, the audience really engage with the music and sing along passionately to every song, highlighting the dedication of the fan-base.
Garvey himself simultaneously commands the stage and lacks energy. He frequently addresses the crowd and makes jokes, keeping people’s attention. However, his movement goes about as far as pointing into the crowd and balcony, which although amazing for the fans who will inevitably swear, “He was looking straight at me!”, got a bit boring four songs in. During “The Birds”, which I believed to be the staple of the set, Garvey stepped back and forth and moved his arm as though he was shaking a pair of invisible maracas, but that was that in the way of dancing.
The show itself lasted just less than two hours, and ended on “Kindling”, which… was an interesting choice to say the least. “One Day Like This,” was the penultimate song of their set list, and received a (well-earned) standing ovation from the crowd. Everyone was in high spirits, even I had goose-bumps from the sing-along, but the band decided to end the show on a slower song. I can understand the cliche of ending on your most famous track, but if they had; everyone would have left with a buzz. I don’t think quite the same was true of “Kindling”.
Ultimately, this is a band who know exactly what they are doing. They know how to put on a great show and appeal to their audience. Even though some songs were particularly well received, every song got a cheer in the opening notes, and all the way through the night Garvey’s lyrics were echoed back to him almost religiously.
Whether or not you believe that Elbow is escapist music for people who want to forget about the rising cost of utilities, house-prices and the pressure of Tarquin and Bethany’s exam results, it is undeniable that they put on a fantastic show.
Words: Maddie Flower
Photos: Jason Sheldon