Elbow – Nottingham Capital FM Arena, Thursday March 17
For Sue and John Hawkins – Block 8, Row R, perched high in a far-flung corner – Elbow’s first arena show in Nottingham proved to be a night to remember. Introducing Open Arms, the most anthemic and arena-friendly track on Elbow’s new album, Guy Garvey sought them out by name, block and row number, announcing that they were “officially further away from the stage than anyone else in the room”. And the name-checks didn’t stop there, either. During the course of Elbow’s two hour show, we were introduced to Craig – who had been spotted refusing to sing along when instructed – and to Sam and Sam, who had chosen to spend the evening before their wedding at an Elbow gig. (“Sam and Sam? That’s going to be confusing for your children. Oh, hang on, they’ll just call you Mum and Dad…”)
As well as these personal touches, other devices were used to create a sense of intimacy in the cavernous hall. Plenty of arena acts use central platforms linked by runways these days, but few front men make as much use of them as Garvey, who constantly strutted back and forth between the main stage and the middle of the room, shaking hands and accepting pats on the back. “I feel like Leslie Crowther”, he said at one point – and at times, there was something game-show host-like about his genial, witty patter.
“This band will have been together for twenty years in June”, Garvey announced, before wondering whether this would qualify them for entry onto Mr And Mrs (the TV quiz that tests married couples’ knowledge of each other). “Just because it’s something else we could win”, he quipped – then immediately apologised for his smugness. (“Pride comes before a fall, doesn’t it?”)
Part of Elbow’s charm rests on the fact that they never actively strove to become an arena act. Their breakthrough album, The Seldom Seen Kid, was conceived when the band were struggling, without even a recording contract. Its slow-building, word-of-mouth success was unexpected, and received with a profound gratitude that persists to this day. They didn’t thrust themselves upon us; we came to them.
Faced with the challenge of scaling up their live show, the band has risen to the occasion magnificently. Their songs fill the room, but the tenderness and grace of the material survives intact. The new album (Build A Rocket Boys!) deals with themes of childhood and nostalgia, and although less than two weeks old, the new songs displayed a stature that sat well with the more familiar numbers. The album’s epic first track The Birds opened the show, setting the standard high. Lippy Kids was delivered with arresting delicacy, and Neat Little Rows – as close to a grinding rocker as the band are prepared to get – was particularly effective. Its greasy-riffed counterpart from the previous album, Grounds For Divorce, was another highlight; surprisingly so, given that many of us had probably heard it a few times too many over the past three years. It offered a teasing glimpse of the noisy rock band that Elbow could easily have been, had they chosen to walk a different path.
For the final encore – the inevitable One Day Like This – Guy Garvey leapt from the stage, dashed through the main floor to the back of the hall, then clambered all the way up to Block 8, Row R, where he greeted a startled but beaming Sue and John Hawkins. The final few refrains of Elbow’s best known anthem were delivered from the worst seats in the house, Garvey’s arm draped over Sue’s shoulder. Man of the people, our Guy. Maybe one day like this a year would see all of us right.
Set list: The Birds, The Bones of You, Lippy Kids, Mirrorball, With Love, Neat Little Rows, The Night Will Always Win, Great Expectations, Grounds for Divorce, The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver, Puncture Repair, Some Riot, Weather To Fly, Open Arms, Starlings, Station Approach, One Day Like This.