Friday, September 30th, 2011
Elbow at The Sound Academy in Toronto
Frank YangI’m sure it’s more coincidence than any kind of conspiracy, but for some reason the last few years have seen late September/early October become the season when a deluge of Mercury Prize rolls through town. Over the past little while, Toronto has hosted performances by Laura Marling, Coldplay, The Horrors, and Wild Beasts with James Blake here tonight and Portishead in just over a week, and Wednesday night saw 2008’s winners Elbow return for their first headline show in over five years.
It wasn’t supposed to have been so long; they were technically here in August 2009 as reigning Mercury champs opening for Coldplay and had a headlining show at The Phoenix all lined up alongside it, but an offer to play Letterman forced them to pull the plug on it and fly to New York – the salt in the wound being that they never got to perform on account of a segment with another guest running long. And personally, though I’d seen them back in November of 2005, I only became any kind of a fan in the intervening years – all of which is to say that the show at The Sound Academy in support of this year’s Build A Rocket Boys was one I’d been waiting for for a long while.
I certainly wasn’t the only one, but with the venue only half full – approximately 1500 punters – and folded into its more intimate configuration, there clearly weren’t as many as some may have hoped. Still enough to offer a roar of welcome to the Manchester quintet and their two backing violinists/vocalists, though. Whereas at the 2005 show I saw, Garvey was hobbled by a bum leg and forced to perform seated for most of the show, he spent this entire evening roaming the stage like the man of the people he is, shaking hands with the front row and pointing and waving to pretty much everyone; I wager that by show’s end, there wasn’t a person in the crowd who hadn’t been personally acknowledged by Garvey. The sort of skills one gains from playing to arena- and stadium-sized crowds, as Elbow do back in the UK, served him well in connecting with the audience whether is was a running theme of getting everyone to wave their hands in the air whenever he did so – perhaps a nod to their latest album’s artwork – or cheekily chastising overeager fans for randomly shouting out the names of English towns or trying to start football singalongs and a offering elocution lessons to those shouting requests inarticulately. All in good fun, of course.
And while I’m sure plenty would have been happy to attend a Guy Garvey speaking tour, this was still a rock concert. At least technically. One of the key realizations in my becoming a fan was that Elbow weren’t actually a conventional rock band, and expecting them to ever “rock out”, as the kids say, was an exercise in frustration. They can pack a wallop when need be, as “Neat Little Rows” and “Grounds For Divorce” – which followed an extended nonsensical ad-libbed audience singalong – aptly demonstrated, but most of the set showcased what has become the band’s forte: the big, open-hearted, sentimental and stately anthems. Opening with “The Birds” and running through the likes of “Mirrorball” and “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver”, all rendered gorgeously and meticulously, it was almost a case of too much beauty to take in.
The heartstring-tugging peaked mid-set when the rest of the band left just Garvey and keyboardist Craig Potter onstage for “The Night Will Always Win” and “Puncture Repair” rendered as piano ballads. Upon their return, the band went big for the final third of the show with grandiose performances of “Weather To Fly”, begun as an acoustic campfire number with all five gathered in a circle before being completed in proper cinematic fashion and set-closing “Open Arms” that was as soaring as one would expect. The encore led off with “Starlings” – Garvey, Mark Potter and Pete Turner handling horn duties – and following “Station Approach” ended with “One Day Like this”, the song that will likely close Elbow shows until the end of time or until they write something even more celebratory.
For all the preceding praise, it could have been better. Hearing something – anything – from Cast Of Thousands would have been glorious and made me feel a little bit less like I was being punished for taking so long to come around on this band. It would also have been nice if they’d worked some of their darker-tinged songs, such as “Audience With The Pope”, into the set if just to break up the sepia-ness of the performance and show off that heavier side just a bit more. A little more variety in the tenor of the set wouldn’t have been a bad thing – after all, when every song is done up big like a set-closer, it can take away from the actual arc of the show and almost make it feel anticlimactic. But these are relatively minor complaints; any time you get to spend almost two hours with one of Britain’s best bands where the prevailing emotion is love in all its permutations, it’s going to be a good time. Check that; great time.
Photos: Elbow @ The Sound Academy – September 28, 2011
MP3: Elbow – “Open Arms”
MP3: Elbow – “Newborn”
Video: Elbow – “Open Arms”
Video: Elbow – “Neat Little Rows”
Video: Elbow – “The Bones Of You”
Video: Elbow – “One Day Like This”
Video: Elbow – “Grounds For Divorce”
Video: Elbow – “Leaders Of The Free World”
Video: Elbow – “Forget Myself”
Video: Elbow – “Grace Under Pressure”
Video: Elbow – “Not A Job”
Video: Elbow – “Fugitive Motel”
Video: Elbow – “Fallen Angel”
Video: Elbow – “Newborn”
Video: Elbow – “Powder Blue”
Video: Elbow – “Red”
Video: Elbow – “Any Day Now”
Adele has released a video for the song you’ve been hearing all Summer and which will haunt you through music stores, shopping malls and karaoke bars until the end of time.
Video: Adele – “Someone Like You”