Elbow, SECC, Glasgow
Friday 18 March 2011
"Do you like what we've done with the place?" asked Elbow's singer Guy Garvey, nodding towards the catwalk jutting into the middle of the hall. "It's like we've won the pools and had a conservatory built." There can be few more modest bands to have appeared on a stage of this size, but now, approaching their 20th anniversary together in June, Elbow are an arena band. And believe it or not, they're better than most at the job.
This first date in support of the Bury quintet's freshly released fifth album, Build a Rocket Boys!, found the scale of the group's appeal maturing in line with their already grown-up sound. It was a big show, but one that earned respect rather than screamed for attention. Behind the stage, hung invisible LCD screens that would flare into unexpected but pin-sharp life, while a chandelier of blue neon tube lights hovered in space above the catwalk. "Am I the only one who thinks that's like something from Superman II?" enquired the three-piece-suited Garvey, gazing up at it.
There was something honest and heartfelt about Garvey's chummy banter: making a musical apology for his own professed obnoxiousness as a teenager with the red-lit swamp rock of recent single, "Neat Little Rows"; mixing up cocktails for the band before their collective theme song "Weather to Fly"; having an audience member spotlit, applauding him and then dedicating "Open Arms" to him simply because he had the seat furthest from the stage.
The straight-up rock of "Grounds for Divorce" and nuanced but immediate epics "The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver" and closer "One Day Like This" were equal in number to more demanding songs like the intriguingly non-committal "With Love" and the plangent Eighties keyboard lines of "The Night Will Always Win", which is not to say Elbow are innovators. They just manage to give the comfort of familiarity a consistent and enduring makeover.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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