Words by Damien Russell / Pics by Michelle Martin
Wednesday night after a long day at work; I’m in the mood to be entertained and on their Little Fictions album tour, Elbow are the ones to do it. Little Fictions is already gracing the top spot of the charts and there’s little fear of the band’s new material being an untested surprise. What I’m keen to see is the unknown (to me) quantity of Richard Jupp’s replacement, Alex Reeves.
The O2 Academy is buzzing and it’s full. Not ‘long wait at the bar’ full; ‘standing in the entrance and on the stairs’ full. The atmosphere is good; everyone’s patient and calm but focused on the stage waiting for The Moment. The Entrance.
As I’m sure you may have guessed Elbow come out to a roar of appreciation, then launch into ‘Gentle Storm’ off the new album. I love the faith they put into their new material and I think it’s faith well placed. ‘Gentle Storm’ is a great set opener for a band who make you feel more like friends than fans.
It’s immediately apparent that Guy Garvey is on form tonight and if you haven’t seen him in action before, you really should. He has a flair for the dramatic while singing, flourishing to the crowd and striding across the stage. Plus he has ‘the gift of the gab’ to say the least. A very welcoming host, Garvey seems just as happy to chat as to sing and I would be surprised if there was anyone in the O2 Academy tonight who didn’t feel warmed by his charm and openness.
Elbow move from their new album to ‘The Bones of You’ from their 2008 album, The Seldom Seen Kid; the two songs work well together, building the set nicely. Alex Reeves, the new boy with big shoes to fill, fits in well and seems quite at home. I did notice one timing slip in the middle of the set but the band are working as unit and covered it to the point of being barely worth mentioning.
As the set progresses and the initial excitement settles down a bit, there are two things that I notice. 1) the lighting design for this show is excellent. Really well thought out rises and falls, good highlighting of key members at the right times and good attention to detail following Garvey in his antics. 2) This is the Guy Garvey show.
Not to say that the band weren’t on form and playing excellently (they did) but Guy Garvey is a natural showman and dominates both the stage and our attention. The other band members are static in comparison and I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a show in two halves, disjointed somehow.
I’m a definite guy. Not often are people left wondering as to what my opinion is. I rarely have to sit and have a good long think about how I feel about something. Elbow, however, have given me a big helping of inner conflict. I love Elbow’s music (and their new music in particular) and I love Guy Garvey, but I found the lack of interaction amongst the band tonight and the one-man stage show unfortunately a bit off-putting.
That aside, Elbow have a cracking back catalogue and the classics go down as well as you would expect. ‘Lippy Kids’ is a real highlight with Garvey predictably getting everyone to sing along (not the only sing-along we had over the evening; another great piece of stage craft saw the audience split into four doing a round of harmonised notes under his direction).
After the final strains of ‘Build a Rocket Boys!’ fades away, the new material holds its own again and ‘Magnificent (She Says)’, the penultimate song before the encore, feels like it would have sat just as well as a set closer. If you like the radio version you’ll love it live.
‘My Sad Captains’, ‘One Day Like This’ and ‘Kindling’ were the encore songs and the final testament that the set list is well put together; and the crowd head out into the damp evening air with an atmosphere of satisfaction but sadness that it’s all over.
Misgivings or inner conflict aside, I catch myself singing Elbow songs all the way home. And the next day. And the day after…. I think I’ll see them again next time they’re in town.
For more on Elbow, visit www.elbow.co.uk
For more from the O2 Academy, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2academybirmingham