elbow – Splendour Sideshow @ The Palace, 27th July.
Is there a more charming rogue than elbow’s Guy Garvey working in the industry today? Many frontmen could learn a thing or two from his simple, genteel between-song banter. Arriving first on stage with dinner jacket, this scruffy impresario takes the time to regularly check in on the audience and is never more than a few words from a well-won chuckle. ‘Are you all free-thinking, cool motherfookers?’ he ponders aloud at one point, in his distinctively thick Manchunian accent. It’s as if your uncle from aboard has come to visit, only instead of regaling you with tales and trinkets, it’s with heart-felt lyricism and life-affirming tunes.
And what tunes, performed to studio-sounding benchmark. Capped by two string players, its remarkable how much fidelity their sound has in the live setting. Faithfully recreating much of their sophisticated albums’ sound and in particular, fronting Garvey’s own rich barstool poet croon.
The set draws almost exclusively from their last two albums, the Mercury Prize winning 2008 breakthrough The Seldom Seen Kid and this year’s Build A Rocket Boys, practically devoid of their earlier, darker material. While this may bring some disappointment to the old guard, there’s nothing wrong with the newer, happier elbow and their own version of stadium rock.
Now regularly playing festivals, and filling ever-larger venues, they have the requisite stompers to fill them. Namely the laddish sing-a-long blues of Grounds For Divorce and the insistent pulse of Neat Little Rows, it’s easy to imagine its pulsing lights and beats lighting up the fields of Splendour; but the effect indoors is almost pummelling. There’s the rousing anthems too, having hit upon the formula with One Day Like This, they’ve repeated the trick with Open Arms.
They remain at their best however, performing their slow burn epics. Namely opener The Birds’ prog-lite structure, Lippy Kids’ nostalgic revelry and the double-header of Starlings and Station Approach that crown their encore and perhaps the evening with their stately declaration of blooming love in the former and chanting stamp through suburbia in the latter.
The key moment occurs as the band prepare their self-motivating ballad WeatherTo Fly, ‘we’re twenty as a band this year’ they pronounce casually. In response, they are greeted by a sloppy crowd rendition of ‘Happy Birthday.’ It’s the kind of unique gig atmosphere few bands achieve, but elbow have won their hard-earned popularity: they’re a band of the people, about people, and very much for the people.