Reader Review: Elbow at The Greek Theatre, October 1st, 2011 by Sadie Whittaker

Elbow at The Greek Theatre, Los Angeles by Sadie Whittaker

October 1st, 2011

“Is everyone ok?” Elbow’s lead singer, Guy Garvey asks as he takes the stage at LA’s Greek Theatre and then “We’re Elbow, from Manchester”, before opening with The Birds, from their latest album, Build A Rocket, Boys!.

are a new band that have been around for 20 years. Currently, on their fifth album release, they have risen to mainstream popularity in the UK, catapulted into the limelight by their Mercury Music Prize win (which honors the best British record of the year) for their last album, The Seldom Seen Kid. Now, ever so quietly, ever so steadily, Elbow are breaking into the US market.

As a lead singer, Guy is the whole package. A poet on paper, he uses his staggering vocal range and expansive lungs to bring his beautifully romantic lyrics to life. Yet, his true art lies is his ability to engage with an audience, a sentiment echoed in an overheard comment: ’He seems like the kind of bloke you’d go to the pub with.’ A true raconteur, Guy tell stories with his songs, then onstage, he tells the stories behind writing the songs, each to rapt attention.

This was Elbow’s debut at LA’s Greek Theatre, the set list contrasting their anthemic stadium songs like “Grounds For Divorce,” with quieter, haunting melodies like “Mirrorball.”

Some of the night’s most emotive moments feature just Guy and keyboard player and producer, Craig Potter. “Puncture Repair,” a song about the importance of friendship in that raw moment of heartbreak, is exquisite in it’s simplicity.

“The Night Will Always Win,” a song about “missing someone who’s dead” is heartbreakingly beautiful. A simple enough melody, but it is the depth of emotion in Guys voice that cracks your heart in two, almost angry and accusatory with the lyrics “Well, did you trust your noble dreams and gentle expectations to the mercy of the night?” before the resigned reply, heavy with sorrow: “The night will always win.” Not since Dylan Thomas has someone conveyed such ardor towards the dying of the light.

But as much as Elbow are about the sadness and poignancy of lost life and lost love, they are, in equal measure about hope and the joy of living. “Lippy Kids,” extolling the infinite possibilities of youth, begins quietly with a soft piano and an echoed whistle, before an emphatic, imploring call to arms to “Build a Rocket, Boys!”

That Elbow are best of friends is clear, no more so than when they all congregate in a tight circle around Craig’s keyboard to celebrate their 20 years together with a shot, before beginning a stripped down version of “Weather to Fly.” This is their song, written when their UK fame was beginning to crest, with lyrics questioning the direction the music industry was pulling them. It is performed elegantly, ending as it begins with Guys falsetto question: “Are we having the time of our lives/Are we coming across clear?”

They close with “One Day Like This,” the audience singing along, again and again to the joyous refrain of the chorus, “Throw your curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right”, encouraged to sing “louder, LA,” even harmonizing with each other so as not to be out done by their East Coast counterparts, “They were harmonizing in New York, LA!” and with that, their too-short set is over.

The crowd shuffle out into the still balmy LA evening, with a smile that comes from spending time with old friends, on a high that will last for days to come.