The British band Elbow started their career under that name in 1997. With their first studio album in 2001 through their most recent release this year, they have charted a course of alternative rock music that is at times melancholy, soulful, and celebratory. They have always been popular in Britain – with strong album sales, awards and recognition, and a spot playing at the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony in London. The band have claimed influences from early Genesis (with Peter Gabriel), to Radiohead and Talk Talk. In fact recording for their latest album The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014) was initiated at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios in Bath, and they contributed a track to his “scratch my/your back” music exchange project. The new album is a triumph for this talented band, debuting at number one in the UK, and gaining them new fans in the states.
At the Fox theater in Oakland they performed in what was one of the top shows we’ve seen this year. Singer Guy Garvey led the group through a lengthy set that included much of the latest album, along with highlights from their catalog of recordings. The staging and lighting was simple but elegant and the music was amazingly well interpreted for the show. What was really impressive is how this singer emotes and connects with the audience. At times the languid pace threatens to overstay it’s welcome, but this band can meander between slow and soulful to more medium paced bits, building the dynamics of a song until the audience can be swept up in the emotion and joy of their beautiful melodies, their meaningful lyrics, and Guy’s silky smooth vocal delivery. In this way I would compare them to The National – one of the other great live acts seen this spring.
Prior to the encore and leaving the stage for the first time, Guy asked audience members to select a song to sing to the band while they rested back stage. After several suggestions, we lit on “Fat Bottom Girls” by Queen. Guy asked those close to the front for help remembering the first set of lyrics, sang us through them and let us know to start after they were off stage for about 5 minutes. Sure enough, at that point, everyone started singing “Fat Bottom Girls” and as the band reassembled, Guy helped us deliver a jubilant final chorus. This was great fun and something I’ve not seen a band do before – this kind of interaction made the show just that much more special.
The set list was:
Charge (The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014))
The Bones of You (The Seldom Seen Kid (2008))
New York Morning (The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014))
Real Life (Angel) (The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014))
The Night Will Always Win (Build a Rocket Boys! (2011))
Fly Boy Blue / Lunette (The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014))
The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver (The Seldom Seen Kid (2008))
Great Expectations (Leaders of the Free World (2005))
Scattered Black and Whites (Asleep in the Back (2001))
Mirrorball (The Seldom Seen Kid (2008))
(Guy dedicated this to a couple of fans who were on a first date)
The Birds (Build a Rocket Boys! (2011))
Grounds for Divorce (The Seldom Seen Kid (2008))
My Sad Captains (The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014))
Lippy Kids (Build a Rocket Boys! (2011))
One Day Like This (The Seldom Seen Kid (2008))
the last one being a perfect message to send us all home with the lyrics:
Throw those curtains wide
One day like this a year would see me right
After the show we had just witnessed, truer words could not be said.