“We’re going to disappear from the public radar for about a year,” Guy Garvey announces to anyone in the crowd who hadn’t already heard.
“These few dates are a way of saying thanks for your support for the last 7 or 8 years.” It’s typical of Elbow to remember to say a fond farewell, and canny to make us miss them by going. They’re the most widely loved recent British band for many good reasons. Underdogs who formed in 1990 and had been going 11 years before they even made an LP, it explodes every rule of the modern music business that that they fought on till the intimate anthems of 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid brought them major success. Garvey’s sheer happiness at this late turn of events, though, and the relentless celebration of gigs since, has threatened to wear thin. It’s time for a pause.
The opening night of this last tour for some time shows off their strengths. When, during “Weather to Fly”, Garvey asks, “Are we having the time of our lives?” he explains the lyric grew from doubting their good fortune at the perfect job of being in Elbow. It’s offered with the demand that the best time possible should be grabbed by us now, in this unprepossessing arena. Garvey sings it in a voice that’s high and pure with a vital sandpaper varnish, lived in yet reliably strong. He’s at the end of a pathway leading off the stage, letting him stroll into the crowd so casually he forgets his jacket is draped over his arm, as if he’s stopping off to hold forth at the bar. This lets him play off and connect with his fans with a stand-up’s knack.
Garvey’s relaxation among masses of people, and the symbiotic need Elbow’s music has grown for them, is a mixed blessing. The contemplative pace of last year’s Build A Rocket Boys! connects live, as string and brass sections give Hollywood grandeur to “The Birds”. The nostalgic observation of the lyric is, though, smothered in the swell. In their favour, “Charge”, a song about hectoring, woozy pride from the new album they’re vanishing to finish, is strong. And when Garvey keeps pushing the crowd’s singing of “One Day Like This” till it’s “louder than you thought imaginable”, Elbow’s unlikely embracing of arena rock is tough to fault.