(Planet Me)
Sunday, February 22, 2015
 
ELBOW London Hammersmith Apollo 10 February 2015
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Ah, the alcohol soft middle age. And yet, Elbow – a band whose existence I still can't explain to my son who thinks a band named after a body part is daft, and why would you see a band that don't give you sweets? - seem to slowly be winding down in some way. Every band has an imperial phase, the shock of the new, where they, by not meaning to, somehow connect with the temperature of the time, and for Elbow, that was five years ago. Now, they are still the band that had that song, and – similar to the Manics – have slowly settled into being a band that, from a career perspective – have had the glory days and now are in the long tail of life : not that this is any bad thing, as such, but that they are now in the era of having been the last next big thing once upon a time.

They were always a band that embraced a softness. Even tonight, which sees some very old songs and b-sides exhumed for the first tour in many, many, many years – there's still a soft heart in songs that have abrasive edges. Setlist construction, in terms of finding a running order and a set of songs that complement each other, that work well next to each other, and create a cohesive whole, is a hard job. And on this tour, Elbow haven't quite got it. It makes the evening uneven, for to be honest, some of Elbow's songs aren't that good : and when “One Day Like This” is sandwiched between a 2004 b-side and an abrasive “Bitten By The Tailfly”, which is sandpaper to some ears. They're not bad, just not as good, insomuch as they don't communciate, they don't connect. The audience here are expecting a different Elbow, the band that made The Seldom Seen Kid and Build A Rocket Boys!

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I'm reminded, and not in an uncharitable way, of seeing The Cure, not in so much as The Cure play a lot of songs, and sometimes they play a set with few singles in : I remember their only public show of 2001, headlining Roskilde, where the band played a 2 hour set of album tracks, until playing 3 singles at the end. Tonight, with some obvious crowdpleasers taken out, Elbow feel like watching a modern day Cure who don't play a single big hit song. It sounds churlish, but I'm sure everyone in the room was yearning for “Starlings”. Or “The Birds”, or “Weather To Fly”, or “New York Morning.” Of course, the band aren't underperforming here – there's a conviction and power in the songs, and the way they are played. The songs themselves are, as they always have been, valiant and sincere attempts at communication, at expression. And surely, that's the point of art? To communicate between people, to reach across the flesh to the spirit, to take an idea, an abstract, a moment, a feeling, and make another person see, feel, hear it, to move us to tears or to joy? Isn't that the point of art? To look at a world made of offices and jobs and supermarkets, and know that this grand symphony of industrial capitalism isn't all there is, that there's something more? That we have love, or hope, or any one of a million things that are worth more than money and profit margins and the visionless grinding of muscle to create product. Elbow create that rarest of things, surrounded by thousands of strangers, I feel both alone and yet utterly surrounded by friends and kindred spirits. In “Jaws”, the most frightening thing is not that the shark hunts down and kills. It's that the shark has black eyes, black like an absence of light, and that all it does is eat and kill and make baby sharks. And the point of art, amongst a million things, such as taking the sharp edges off a world that has no need to be bearable, or enjoyable, the point of art is to make life better in some way, to know that we are not alone, even if we are alone, and that we – humans – are worth more than simple, in a few words : Darling, is this love? And if it isn't love, for life, for love, for hope, for a better world, what is the point?

And if we only come this way but once, what a perfect waste of time.

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This Blue World –
Any Day Now –
Fly Boy Blue –
Lunette –
Fugitive Motel –
The Bones Of You –
Mexican Standoff –
One Day Like This –
Bitten By The Tailfly –
Real Life (Angel) –
Switching Off –
The Birds –
Lippy Kids –
The Take Off And Landing Of Everything –
Newborn –
Grounds For Divorce –
My Sad Captain -

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