Elbow
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.

It’s the final night of their tour before they go off for a well-earned year’s break ahead of their next album, but there’s no signs of eighteen months on the road supporting their album ‘Build A Rocket Boys!’ having taken their toll on Elbow tonight.

Although there’s 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’ don’t 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. There’s 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 Garvey’s love for his other half (‘Mirrorball’, ‘One Day Like This’, ‘Starlings’), his hometown (‘Station Approach’, ‘Lippy Kids’), but they’re 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’).

It’s impossible not to get sucked into the maelstrom of emotion that’s being generated on stage, and Elbow’s 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 – it’s 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 Mark’s 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 there’s 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 “are we having the time of our lives” part. If Bono tried all this, he’d be rightly castigated as an arsehole. Guy gets away with it because he’s not Bono, he’s your lovable affable uncle that everyone adores, but it’s 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 it’s closer than it needs to be. When they come back hopefully they’ll focus on what they’re best at and not try too hard with the audience connection. The songs themselves do that for them, they don’t need anything else.

 

As the whole arena is on its feet for ‘One Day Like This’, you can’t help but feel it’s a song that defines a generation, a mood and a celebration that bucks the times in which we live, a beacon of positivity. That’s Elbow through and through.

Elbow played:
High Ideals
The Bones Of You
Grace Under Pressure
Mirrorball
Charge
Leaders Of The Free World
Grounds For Divorce
The Loneliness Of The Tower Crane Driver
The Night Will Always Win
Weather To Fly
Fugitive Motel
Puncture Repair
Lippy Kids
Open Arms
Starlings
Station Approach
One Day Like This

Words by Dave Brown. More writing by David on Louder Than War can be found here.

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