The O2, London
Sunday, December 2nd, 2012
A fantastic band puts on a great show (albeit with a couple of shortfalls).This is David Brown’s account of Elbow’s recent London date.
Itâs the final night of their tour before they go off for a well-earned yearâs break ahead of their next album, but thereâs no signs of eighteen months on the road supporting their album ‘Build A Rocket Boys!’ having taken their toll on Elbow tonight.
Although thereâs nothing from the breakthrough debut album ‘Asleep In The Back’ tonight, Elbow have taken on board criticism of their earlier shows on this run being too focused on ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ and ‘Build A Rocket Boys!’ and almost denying their past prior to their elevation from also-rans to stadium fillers. ‘Fugitive Motel’, ‘Grace Under Pressure’, ‘Leaders Of The Free World’, ‘Puncture Repair’ and, in particular, ‘Station Approach’ donât feel out of place among the songs that are well-known and loved and get 16,000 people in union worshiping at the altar of Garvey, even, unusually for London, standing quietly and listening to the slower songs. Thereâs even space for a new song, ‘Charge’, which harks back to the debut album in terms of tempo and style.
They sound magnificent too. The songs feel like they belong in this cavernous environment, despite the fragile and tender nature of most of them. Augmented by strings and brass, they tug at the heartstrings as they swoop and soar with their outpourings of Garveyâs love for his other half (‘Mirrorball’, ‘One Day Like This’, ‘Starlings’), his hometown (‘Station Approach’, ‘Lippy Kids’), but theyâre not afraid to rock out, gently mind you, when the mood takes them (‘The Bones Of You’, ‘Grounds For Divorce’, ‘Leaders Of The Free World’).
Itâs impossible not to get sucked into the maelstrom of emotion thatâs being generated on stage, and Elbowâs beauty is that they know how to reach into your soul and sooth and caress it gently. Guy is singing songs that relate to everyone whilst retaining a hugely personal feel to them – itâs a mean trick that very few people can master.
There are moments of connection between the band of brothers: Craig refusing to start the song, insisting Guy tells the story behind ‘Puncture Repair’ (where drummer Richard took Guy in after being dumped by an ex-girlfriend) rather than continue a story about penises, Guy telling Richard he has to have the smallest drink when they congregate for ‘Weather To Fly’ because he has to drum, and when Guy places a kiss on Markâs head as they reach the breakdown of that song. He also regularly introduces the string and brass sections, as key to the Elbow sound as the band themselves. Guy even gives his 12 year old guitar away to a guy in the front row whose birthday it is and makes a point of urging the crowd to donate to the National Autistic Society who are collecting outside.
However, there is a but. You just feel that thereâs too much on the audience connection and it breaks up the momentum of the show. In pretty much every song, Guy implores the crowd to clap or wave their arms. They waste over five minutes doing a Mexican wave and another five getting parts of the crowd to sing the intro to ‘Grounds For Divorce’ and they split ‘Weather To Fly’ into two by trying to find someone in the audience to sing the âare we having the time of our livesâ part. If Bono tried all this, heâd be rightly castigated as an arsehole. Guy gets away with it because heâs not Bono, heâs your lovable affable uncle that everyone adores, but itâs becoming too much and it distracts from a band that can trade on the power and raw emotion of its canon of songs.
The songs win through, but itâs closer than it needs to be. When they come back hopefully theyâll focus on what theyâre best at and not try too hard with the audience connection. The songs themselves do that for them, they donât need anything else.
As the whole arena is on its feet for ‘One Day Like This’, you canât help but feel itâs a song that defines a generation, a mood and a celebration that bucks the times in which we live, a beacon of positivity. Thatâs Elbow through and through.
The Bones Of You
Grace Under Pressure
Leaders Of The Free World
Grounds For Divorce
The Loneliness Of The Tower Crane Driver
The Night Will Always Win
Weather To Fly
One Day Like This
Words by Dave Brown. More writing by David on Louder Than War can be found here.