For a band who have become one of the country’s most beloved through a slow reveal of reliably well-chiselled, tender and emotionally weighty songs, circumstances seem to have opened Elbow up to new possibilities.
Since their 2014 No 1 album The Take Off and Landing of Everything, the Mercury Prize-winning Bury five piece have shed a member, original drummer of 25 years Richard Jupp leaving for pastures new.
At the same time frontman Guy Garvey, for so long the eloquent purveyor of northern male vulnerability and heartbreak, has got married and is very much a man in love.
It gives seventh album Little Fictions - another No 1 record - something of an evolutionary feel. No wheel has been reinvented - Elbow can’t help but be Elbow - but Jupp’s departure has given them a jolt out of their comfort zone.
As they step onstage tonight for the first of three nights at the Apollo, the four members line up in a row as if to reiterate Jupp’s absence. They then sing 'Gentle Storm', a soft drum shuffle of a song unlike anything they’ve ever done before that allows Garvey the space to implore “fall in love with me”. On the title track, an epic, experimental reflection on “on the art of arguing” he sings of love as “the original miracle” like a man still spellbound by its power.
Arena veterans, this tour has been scaled down to relatively small theatres. It helps the music, always delivered with emotional heft, to make a rarefied connection.
The communal moments still swell the heart - the way Garvey invites the crowd to sing the unavailingly romantic “we kissed like we invented it” during the gorgeous 'Mirrorball' - but the intimacy suits: the paean to teenage innocence 'Lippy Kids' is so fragile as to nearly come apart at the seams. 'Great Expectations', the sole representative from their pre-Seldom Seen Kid struggles, sends a shiver down the spine.
Despite their colossal success, something of the underdog still emanates from Elbow.
It is principally because of Garvey: a portly, bearded 40-something who possesses a favourite-uncle-at-Christmas charm and a voice like worn silk on skin, luxurious yet comforting. In contrast to his lyrics, he smiles and (dad) jokes his way through the set as he treads the stage as if happily off to get the next round in. Then his voice soars like it does on new song 'Magnificent (She Says)', as stirring as Elbow have ever sounded.
Sports-reel ubiquity has yet to make a dent into 'One Day Like This', which comes across tonight in the encore like an alternative national anthem: for the everyday, the hopeful, the lovelorn, the idealistic. Reassuringly, Elbow remain a token of all those things.Reuse content