Live Review

Elbow, Wembley Arena

Holding his trumpet aloft at the front of the stage to the rapturous applause of 12,500 fans, Guy Garvey looks both triumphant and overwhelmed. It’s a real heroes welcome for Elbow, and one that marks the end of their most successful year to date.

Holding his trumpet aloft at the front of the stage to the rapturous applause of 12,500 fans, Guy Garvey looks both triumphant and overwhelmed. It’s a real heroes welcome for Elbow, and one that marks the end of their most successful year to date.

The show tonight, at London’s Wembley Arena, is a celebration of their hard work over the past ten years – ten years that has seen the band release three studio albums, and part company with two record labels before finding a home with Fiction Records who released their fourth studio album ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ to critical acclaim. One Mercury Prize, a Brit Award and a sell-out UK tour later, and Elbow stand before a crowd of 12,500 adoring fans – many of whom have followed the band since the beginning; a statistic the band are very aware of. Elbow look overwhelmed by such a warm, raptuous welcome. “We wanna thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for coming out tonight.”

It’s easy to see why Elbow deserve their success – their live show is a very simple affair; there is no grandeur or gimmicks involved here. The band rely on the quality of their live performance to carry them, and they deliver for the entirety of their 90-minute set.

Starting the set with ‘The Bones Of You’ and ‘Mirrorball’ complete with a string quartet, Elbow make their performance seem effortless. Every inch of the performance is a stunning replication of the songs that are on record, and the band are so tight-knit as performers that you’d be forgiven for thinking the band were miming. They’re not.

As a band, Elbow aren’t particularly showy – there is no excited dancing about or skipping from one end of the stage to the other, each member concentrates animatedly on their individual instrument, and occasionally pass a fleeting glance over the sea of faces that watch them eagerly. Guy Garvey commands the stage – not in an egotistical, over-bearing way, but in a reserved, passionate manner. He speaks candidly throughout the set about the stories behind the songs, however, when you see him singing to the sea of awe-struck faces stood before him, you can see from the passion he throws into every word than it is much more than a simple story. He engages with the audience in a way that makes you think he is communicating with you solely, perhaps a rare feat in a venue as large as this. “Wow there’s loads of you!” Guy exclaims, as the house lights go up after the final chord of ‘The Bones Of You’ has rung out.

The audience get involved with ‘The Stops’ at the band’s request – they take on conducting duties, directing the audience to sing in the right places as backing vocalists, and every single person happily obliges. “I’ve got a mass choir at my disposal – why not use it?” Guy muses aloud.

Elbow bring on Richard Hawley to duet on ‘The Fix’, with Guy engaging in some light-hearted banter with an audience member who interrupts him with a declaration of love as he is trying to introduce Richard Hawley to the stage. Richard joins in as he takes to the stage – “Are we gonna start? I’ve got a bus to catch!” It’s a moment that seems almost insignificant to the more weathered gig-goers, however, it’s a further indication that Elbow are still those ‘five lads from Bury’ who haven’t let the success go to their head.

The band up the ante slightly with picks from ‘Leaders of the Free World’ ‘Mexican Standoff’ and ‘Forget Myself’. Guy admits that he hasn’t played the intro to ‘Mexican Standoff’ right once during the whole tour – prompting a wave of chuckles. The two tracks see the band showing their heavier side, and sees Guy rocking out with a guitar – and he got the introduction right, this time. The audience are very receptive to this change of mood, and eagerly chant along with the big choruses.

The band provide a balance of anthemic and beautiful, with crowd-pleasing, frenetic anthem ‘Grounds for Divorce’, the eloquent ‘Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver’ and ‘Switching Off’ but this bodes well with Wembley Arena, and its patrons – the variety of the sound fills the arena with ease and provides opportunities for reflection. ‘Newborn’ is simply beautiful, with its relaxing acoustic guitar and Hammond-like tones. It brings a quiet hush over the audience, providing one of the many heart-stopping moments of the evening – set aptly to a backdrop of a film of babies.

Elbow complete a band tradition – a round of shots before launching into an acoustic version of ‘Weather to Fly’ gathered in ‘Craig’s Corner’ (Potter, Keyboards) – or so we think. One verse later, and it’s back to big, ballsy sounds as the band resume their normal stage positions to complete the song in its full glory. On the subject of drinks – the band manage to drink beer, orange juice, whisky shots and a cup of tea – in the comfort of a 90-minute setting, which aside from the past year, is a big achievement in itself.

The set is ended suitably with ‘One Day Like This’ – a glorious, uplifting track that welcomes back the string quartet, and a group of backing singers to the stage to really recreate the studio version in a live environment. The lyric “It’s looking like a beautiful day” says everything for Elbow – it’s been a year of ‘beautiful days’ for the band. At the climax of the song – before the rounds of the crowd-chanted, repeated chorus begin, a river of ticker tape and streamers are launched from both ends of the stage, leaving Wembley Arena awash in a sea of silver and white.

“You didn’t honestly think we’d not come back on, did you?” Guy Garvey chuckles as the band make a final return to the stage for the encore. There is a last visit to ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ with ‘Some Riot’, which gives the audience a chance to recover from the passion of ‘One Day Like This’. Guy’s voice on this song is haunting, yet mesmerising at the same time, leaving the audience awestruck in his presence. ‘Station Approach’ is one last attempt at turning the volume up – and the audience happily help the band out by screaming the chorus at the tops of their lungs. “A lullaby – for you all” is the introduction for ‘Scattered Black and Whites’, a pretty, soothing acoustic number which is the final song of the night. It marks a change from the norm of having a new single or the most popular song to end proceedings, however, this is Elbow, and they are innovators.

Tags: Elbow, Features

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