If forced to name an early signal of my decline as a concert-goer (aside from shows by that one band or that one guy), I'd single out Elbow's tour of the United States a couple of years ago, when I failed to get tickets before the gig sold out. Oh how I rued that day. Fortunately, the band has returned with a new album and with plenty of tickets to go around.
Elbow, Bimbo's 365 Club, May 8, 2008: I first saw Elbow opening for Doves, and their bond was easily evident, notably in their penchant for crafting sweeping, atmospheric songs with a strong rhythm-based foundation (for British bands, anyway). Elbow, however, could lay claim to one other asset: Guy Garvey, for his lyricism, his vocals, and his outright charm.
I mean, I love Doves, and they remain high on my list of favorite bands (which is saying a lot when I haven't seen them play in three years), but I'm not blind to their weaker points. That is, you get the distinct impression that they're more at home in the studio than playing in front of people. What they may lack in onstage charisma, however, they compensate for in terms of pure musical power.
I'm not averse to that arrangement, but a little bit of personality has its rewards. Guy Garvey has more than a hint of this allure. Hailing from Manchester -- a city not known for its charm -- he possesses an understated, natural magnetism that never feels forced and that appeals to both men and women. More than one declaration of love this evening came from a dude. Also, Guy's lyrics are often breathtaking in their detail and pathos.
However, Elbow hasn't sustained my interest as well as Doves, and it's not just the lack of tour time either. For whatever reason, the songs haven't hit me in quite the same manner as the earlier albums. Then again, a band's recorded output is only one factor of its appeal, and it may have nothing to do with whether I care to see them live.
In that regard, Elbow still makes for a compelling live band. Tonight, they started off with a trumpet flare, as each of the five band members lifted a cornet to the roof and blew a note to kick off the proceedings with "Starlings," the lead-off track from The Seldom Seen Kid. From there, the set highlighted tracks from the latest album, with a few older tunes, including "Mexican Standoff," "Leaders of the Free World," and "Newborn."
The most beseeching audience requests were for "Powder Blue," coming from at least one person on my side of the room, as well as someone from the opposite half. There were probably more, but their voices were the loudest and the most persistent. To the dude on the other side of the stage, Guy shared his reason for turning down the offer; I'm going to mangle his hilarious retort, so I'll only mention it involved testicles.
At the very end, Guy urged us to give into cheesiness (note: I love cheese) and sing along to "One Day Like This" from the new album. At least from where I stood, the crowd didn't hesitate to follow his instructions. In fact, the outpouring of voices, requests, and general affection from the audience put me to shame, but it also made me glad to know that they're still winning over American audiences. With any luck, I'll once more buy tickets in time when they next return.
» here comes the action