Elbow

Elbow live at the Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles, CA, May 28th, 2014

May 29, 2014 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


“Charge,” the first song of Elbow’s concert, is aptly titled. The British band storms the audience with startling vigor, urged on by Richard Jupp kicking his bass drum with the force of a Clydesdale. Midway through the new track, a pair of female violinists seated at the rear of the stage swoop in. Their dramatic musical squall increases the barometric pressure inside the room. The audience somehow finds its breath for a loud cheer.

Elbow sustains the urgency by continuing with “The Bones of You” from The Seldom Seen Kid. The uppercut of its chorus is hardly diminished by its familiarity. Elbow’s five musicians may be at the end of a U.S. tour—with their beards, they resemble a hockey team during playoffs—but they seem energized by the final strait.

Elbow is touring in support of its sixth record, The Takeoff and Landing of Everything, which lacks the immediacy of previous releases. (As singer Guy Garvey admitted to this reviewer, “It is a very dense first listen, I will say that.”) Case in point: “New York Morning” features a melody akin to a hidden image stereogramone has to stare at for ages until its underlying picture suddenly appears in its full glory. Once seen, one wonders why it wasn’t obvious all along. The live version of “New York Morning” envelopes the audience like an aurul hug. Afterward, Garvey points out that the older married couple in the music video(known only as Dennis and Lois) has followed the band the entire tour and is present in the audience. 

Garvey introduces “Real Life (Angel)” as a song about heartbreak. It’s another new track that rewards patient listeners with its chiming percussion and lilting guitar lines. For all its beauty, “Real Life (Angel)” is an emotionally intense piece. Fittingly, the stage is lit in the kind of red light Hollywood movies use when a military submarine goes into DEFCON mode. Garvey hunches over his hand-held microphone, pointing at individual members of the audience and making eye contact with them.

The new album’s first single, “Flyboy Blue/Lunette,” draws inspiration from King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King. It’s the one instance on The Takeoff and Landing of Everything in which Elbow explore unfamiliar musical territory. The drums and vocals navigate the tricky tightrope-balance of a loping rhythm until, suddenly, the song is ruptured by Mark Potter’s guitar, savagely ripping and tearing its fabric to tatters. It’s a shock to hear a band so renowned for its genteel orderliness embrace such anarchic chaos. One wishes they’d do this sort of thing more often. The Takeoff and Landing of Everything is a consistently good album—there’s not a duff track on it—but it doesn’t take Elbow’s music to many new places. “Flyboy Blue/Lunette” suggests that the band might yet have a Kid A in them. (One suggestion: Elbow might try rescinding its ban on solos, which needn’t devolve into indulgent musical wanking.)

Poor pacing hampers the middle portion of the set, which draws from Elbow’s older albums. “The Loneliness of the Tower Crane Driver,” “Great Expectations,” “Scattered Black and Whites,” and “Mirrorball” rank among Elbow’s most emotionally resonant moments. When Guy Garvey sings each one, you can almost see the heart straining in his chest. But a rock song such as “Neat Little Rows” or “Forget Myself”—neither of which has been played on this tour—should have been slotted somewhere in the middle of this down-tempo section.

Thankfully the band takes the concert from simmer to boil with “The Birds.” Garvey, much trimmer than in recent years and in his finest vocal form to date, sings as if he’s auditioning for heaven’s choir. During the middle portion of this epic track, his voice repeatedly winds around Craig Potter’s pulsating keyboard figure, tautening in intensity. When Garvey finally releases the tension with a bellow, the musical rapture is as powerful as the first moment of falling in love. Indeed, “The Birds” (from Build a Rocket Boys!) is about an old man looking back on a love affair. It exemplifies Elbow’s greatest virtue: the way Garvey’s songs map the journey of a heart during a lifetime. Elbow’s songs are about lovers, friends, and family and our bonds to them through life and death. The singer’s lyrics embrace an emotional honesty that many bands shy away from, preferring instead to posture about cars and girls and rock ’n’ roll.

Throughout the night, Garvey builds a tangible connection with the audience. Early on, he passes a cup of gin and tonic to a sweaty fan; later he dedicates “Mirrorball” to “Jimmy and Melanie” on their first date. (Good luck, Jimmy, on topping that on date no. 2.) The genial and garrulous frontman even pulls the road crew out from the wings for a cheer for its hard work.

By the time Elbow heads into the homestretch, the crowd is more than happy to reciprocate his warmth by singing along to “Grounds for Divorce.” They almost drown out Pete Turner’s strutting bass groove. Even better is the audience participation during “One Day Like This,” which is Elbow’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The collective voices pull off an impressive two-part harmony. One can’t overstate the communal power of being in the middle of an audience singing that song.Tonight, it’s a good thing the Wiltern doesn’t have chandeliers.

SET LIST:

“Charge”

“The Bones of You”

“New York Morning”

“Real Life (Angel)”

“The Night Will Always Win”

“Fly Boy Blue/Lunette”

“The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver”

“Great Expectations”

“Scattered Black and Whites”

“Mirrorball”

“The Birds”

“Grounds for Divorce”

“My Sad Captains”

“Lippy Kids”

“One Day Like This”

(www.facebook.com/Elbow)




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