ELBOW London o2 Arena 16 April 2014
Will we, in 10 or 20 years, look at bands like Elbow with the same distaste that once we looked at Phil Collins? As bands about abstract and perhaps less than meaningful? Christ, none of it could be worse than the dregs of Britpop, where the bastard child of that is Coldplay, who think they are edgy by wearing green coats and singing songywongs about nothing very much at all. Like a Superhero made of nothing but weaknesses, clinging to meaningless platitudes whilst millions listen in a vague affirmation of how everythings going to eventually all be ok. Elbow? No. They're much better. They mine vaguely similar ground – the minor chords, the orchestral sweeps, the midpaced ballads, but also, they're a band that stand for something : words that stand out far above many of their second-generation inbred contemporaries, with wit and insight, with music that has dynamics and the sense of exhausted hope that somehow keeps Britain afloat.
Possibly not. After all, whilst Coldplay seem to be doing a very good job of being bland and boring (“Mylo Xyloto” is probably about the inner thoughts of a dying whale, or something), Elbow operate on the level of human communication. The music is broad and sometimes, lacking in bite, but lyrically and emotionally, this is a literate band. Having seen them several times before, I like this band despite myself, for whilst they are good, they lack to me a core sense of urgency, a keen sense of compulsion.
Don't get excited now, don't show emotion much, we're British. Cup of tea?
Elbow have always sounded knackered, tired, the sound of a late night sigh before sleep. And whilst music like this has a place in every life, and perhaps it is me at where I am at this point in my life – I'm not sure it exactly aligns with me precisely at this point, but I know, as – well, what am I saying? Elbow are a great band, and in Guy Garvey have one of the finest frontmen there is, both in terms of his presence but also his superior between song abilities. The songs themselves may float in a half-world, the sound not of someone demanding change, but looking for some kind of way of navigating through this life. On the hells of their umpteenth – and very good, consistent, Yet-Another-Elbow album, “The Take Off And Landing Of Everything”, the band are on another area tour, with the usual arena accompaniments of video screens, lights, lasers, smoke, a string section, and an ego ramp for the singer to walk up and down ending in a b-stage for the mid-set acoustic interlude. It's a familiar formula, and one that works well. The structure – a 40 minute opening section, a low key b-side second-stage acoustic interlude, some jokes, and a slow lean up to a crescendo, is well worn formula in the world. That said, it works well, with a Mirrorball, moving projections, and, as the show ends, the lights in the ceiling revealing themselves to be balloons that rampage over the arena as “One Day Like This” takes the evening home in a victory lap. It is exactly as you might expect Elbow to be.
With a pleasing predictability, it's also a warm and feel-good evening, with no sense of anything greater or other than “It'll all be alright”, a communal musical hug. The lyrics cut through with a sharpness and acuity lacking in the music (the music is considered, relaxed, even). As Starlings said “You are the only thing in any room you are ever in.” : its the sound of love, of hope, of people together beyond their differences. It's the sound of Elbow.
The Bones of You
Fly Boy Blue / Lunette
Real Life (Angel)
The Night Will Always Win
New York Morning
The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver
The Blanket of Night
Grounds for Divorce
My Sad Captains
One Day Like This