2014 turned out to be a pretty busy year for me gig wise. I was determined to keep that pace up this year, and I've already seen Alvvays at the Deaf Institute (who were delightfully scuzzier and fuzzier than on record) and First Aid Kit at the Apollo (their voices were simply sublime).
Unquestionably though, I was most looking forward to seeing Elbow. You may have seen me gush over them on a few occasions. I feel like the band have really connected with me - lead singer Guy Garvey is capable of putting into words thoughts and feelings I would never even comprehend attempting to describe. Leaders Of The Free World was the first record I bought when I came to Manchester, and when they did a special Radio 2 In Concert show in the Cathedral I was one of those maniacs in Exchange Square watching the live stream and drinking their Build A Rocket Boys! beer.
Any album they release is a dead cert to be one of my favourites that year, and last year's The Take Off And Landing Of Everything was no exception. Having somehow evaded seeing them live for so many years I was determined to come along for what's likely to be the victory lap for that album: having thoroughly enjoyed their theatre tour of the U.S. the band decided to cap things off with a pair of residencies at both London and Manchester Apollos. Luckily I was sharp enough to grab a ticket for their second Manchester show.
The show opened just as The Take Off... did with "This Blue World", the five piece string/horn section setting the scene while the main band walk on stage, plastic cups of beer in hand, naturally. Also natural was the choice of follow up track: Asleep In The Back's opener "Any Day Now". Hearing the rhythm section in particular reminded me just how much early Elbow were inspired by trip-hop. Their most recent record certainly took many cues from the first two, so the songs from both their earliest and their current records complimented each other very well.
Indeed, songs from all across the band's back catalogue appeared, which was pleasing given a number of shows touring their previous album stuck so heavily to only their two most recent albums. Personal favourites of mine among the "oldies" were the longing of "Fugitive Motel" and the brooding paranoia of "Mexican Standoff", chock full of aggression and great guitar work by both Guy and lead guitarist Mark Potter that would later be topped by the surprising "Bitten By The Tailfly".
The newer material formed the focus of the set and was used smartly, with the more considered pieces appearing early and the more communal feeling songs coming later on when the audience had lost their inhibitions and found their voice. Highlights for me were "Real Life (Angel)" with its cathartic cries of "on that Hallelujah morning" and the simply majestic "The Take Off And Landing Of Everything", which really soared and featured Guy setting up the intro with this weird melodica/shisha pipe looking contraption.
Of course, the big three singles from The Seldom Seen Kid all still got an air. "The Bones Of You" cueing the night's first sing-along. Guy kept us in the palm of his hand leading clap-alongs, loosening the audience up and opening the floodgates for yet more to come. I was surprised to find "One Day Like This" turn up so early on in the set ("You may know this one" quipped Guy when introducing it), but it still got a typically rapturous response, with lots of "you sing" moments from Garvey that proved how good a voice the crowd were in. Equally terrific was the interaction for "Grounds For Divorce", Guy revelling in the pantomime with the "Woah-oh-oah"s, turning the seats and the stalls against each other and convincing us "last night was better" to good-natured boos.
He'd do this again at the end of the main set. "This is our last song" he'd claim, drawing insincere boos. "You know the routine" bemoaned Guy, who seemed amused by the cries of "You liar!" he drew. "Goodnight" he'd tell the unconvinced crowd, before setting off with the tremendous "Newborn", a song that moves from tender to blistering with such a marvellous build.
In case you haven't guessed by now, Guy is an exceptional front man. Conversational, charming and warm, he has a natural command of his audience and a true knack for coaxing out interaction. A simple request for "hands" always filled the theatre with claps. You'll regularly find yourself in eye contact with him and you get the sense he truly appreciates you being there. I think I lost track of my "Holy shit Guy pointed at me, I swear" count after 3 or 4, the biggest one being the big cheery grin he had on his face seeing me sing along to part of "The Birds". After years of sort of seeing him around Oxford Road that made me feel pretty cool but also in a bit of a panic thinking "I hope he looks somewhere else soon, I've no idea what the next line is!"
You can see this gratitude all through the show, with mentions for all his band mates, the sounds guy, their on stage technician, the cameraman filming this (apparently) for a DVD release and the couple in the audience that were the subject of the "New York Morning" video. As mentioned above, he is also playful and humorous. Having read the M.E.N.'s review of opening night, he took faux exception to them saying he had the appearance of "an avuncular sociology lecturer". "That wasn't the look I was going for, Manchester", he confessed, and vowed to be more rock and roll, "less leather elbow patches and more leather trousers" (he lied, he was in jeans).
He'd return to this pretence many times referring to himself as a "badass muthafucker", introducing "Fly Boy Blue/Lunette" with "This is a good song... so fuck you all", and when explaining "Fugitive Motel" was written in Texas and thus he wasn't really "somewhere in the dustbowl" as the song claimed he tried to brush it off as an example of how rock n roll he is.
Show closer "My Sad Captains" made sure the night ended on a poignant moment and one last feeling of being blessed to be a part of this night. Truly, Elbow dispel the notion of "nice guys finish last" greater than anyone - these nice guys are way out in front and long may they remain there.
And why am I telling you this? Because you need to know.
- This Blue World
- Any Day Now
- Fly Boy Blue/Lunette
- Fugitive Motel
- The Bones Of You/Summertime
- Mexican Standoff
- One Day Like This
- New York Morning
- Switching Off
- Real Life (Angel)
- Bitten By The Tailfly
- Grounds For Divorce
- Lippy Kids
- The Take Off And Landing Of Everything
16. The Birds
17. My Sad Captains