Monday, June 30, 2014

her heart beats like a breezeblock

The drive home late Monday night required me to carefully navigate the dark curves of Highway 17 when all I really wanted to do was blast "The Loneliness and the Scream" on repeat, stick my head out the window, and yell along to the song, all while driving 100mph. However, safety required only one of those was possible, especially if I wanted to live long enough to catch the final show of the Owl John tour in San Francisco the following night.

Owl John, the Chapel, 06-24-14Owl John, the Chapel, June 24, 2014: I complain a lot about San Francisco's current dot-com boom, but one big difference between this gold rush and its '90s predecessor is the fact that more clubs and venues seem to be opening around town, unlike all the threatened closings of the previous round. You can include the Chapel as one of the new spots, and embarrassingly, I hadn't yet made it out there. I was finally ready to fix the error of my ways with the Owl John show.

The Chapel was probably the biggest club on this tour and I'm guessing the grandest, though it still was small enough to feel warm and exclusive. It might've had the best turnout too -- a huge step up from the Crepe Place and even the tiny Echo. Frightened Rabbit has always enjoyed a solid following in San Francisco, and Owl John continued this tradition.

On this larger stage, Scott returned to the electric guitar, and now as an Owl John veteran, I noticed a few familiar patterns. "Old Old Fashioned" kicked off the proceedings, complete with appreciative whoops when the audience recognized the tune, and "Poke" and "Keep Yourself Warm" dominated the early requests, only to be saved for a later slot.

With three shows in my pocket, I'd had a better chance to listen to the new songs, particularly "Los Angeles, Be Kind" and "A Good Reason to Grow Old." Your guess is as good as mine as to how they'll sound with full studio resources behind them, but from what I could tell, the frank, aching lyrics are intact. At least on the latter track, they're openly romantic ... for the first time ever? I'll be listening when the record drops.

In terms of the set, "State Hospital" made the cut again, and it sounded a lot better on electric than acoustic guitar (sorry, Crepe Place). A new friend and I tried to do the backing vocals for "The Wrestle," which caught Scott's attention enough that he encouraged everyone who knew the backing vocals to join in. Unfortunately, the only audible reaction seemed to come from a group of ladies who screamed in the chorus. I'm pretty sure other people were singing in their corners, but the combination of the room, the electric guitar, and our proximity may have drowned out their contributions.

The special track of the night was "Behave," dedicated to a friend who believed in the band long before anyone else picked up on them. Take note, anyone who wants to hear a song from the first record.

Owl John, the Chapel, 06-24-14

Another observation: I don't think Scott likes to do "Fast Blood," though it comes up as a request all the time. Granted, I'm judging from a small sample size, but I've seen this at Frightened Rabbit gigs too. I'd love to hear it, but I won't assume it's a staple at every show.

Scott was again highly talkative, even before a lady in the audience informed him his fly was down, a full six songs into the set. Standing front and center, we had noticed it too, but how do you bring up the topic? I'll file that away for the next encounter. At first, he was embarrassed, claiming he had nightmares about such a scenario. Then he turned defiant and leaned into it, but ultimately, opted for decorum (fly up).

This being San Francisco, he also fielded a declaration of lust from a male audience member who yelled -- I quote -- "I want you inside me." Scott obliged to a certain extent, offering earhole access and no looking, as well as keys to his hotel room.

As expected, the news that he now lived in Los Angeles didn't go well in San Francisco, but as he explained, he moved there because he fell in love ... with Miley Cyrus, whom he tweets every day, but she doesn't reply. It was actually a very sweet moment. He also later admitted that everyone knew San Francisco was the cooler city, which seemed to excuse his actions for the time being.

Owl John, the Chapel, 06-24-14

I noted 21 songs at this show as well, but the sheer volume of chatter pushed this gig toward and maybe even over the two-hour mark. I stayed for every second of it, down to the now familiar closing trio of "The Loneliness and the Scream," "Poke," and "Keep Yourself Warm." The crowd picked up on the clapping for "Loneliness," though Scott warned us not to go too fast, and we filled in where we could on the last two tracks. We did respectably well, though we still trailed Los Angeles in that regard by a ways.

Dan Wilson from Withered Hand opened all the shows, and it was easy to see the affinity between Withered Hand and Frightened Rabbit. They both favored sharp, self-deprecating lyrics with a contemporary outlook, and Dan even name-checked the Silver Jews. Dan's performances had also grown stronger over the course of the tour, and by San Francisco, he simply sounded great. He reminded me a lot of Badly Drawn Boy, which is a high compliment in my book.

In Santa Cruz, Scott pointed out that he'll be back when the album comes out, and in each city, he casually mentioned that he could do shows easily, now that he lived just down the road. "Easy" is probably an exaggeration, but Scott has proven his mettle as a road warrior. I look forward to seeing him in yet another remote location. I hear Pioneertown and Big Sur are awesome!

Owl John in California
» Los Angeles: four worn-out limbs and not one love song
» Santa Cruz: give me soft, soft static

See also:
» let's get old fashioned
» all possibilities

Sunday, June 29, 2014

give me soft, soft static

With a human voice underneath.

Owl John, the Crepe Place, June 23, 2014: My old rock tourism reflexes began twitching as soon as the Owl John tour dates were first announced, but following the Echo gig, I had to make it happen. Early on, Visalia was particularly intriguing, as I'd seen British Sea Power there a few years ago, but other obligations foiled those plans. That left Santa Cruz, which was entirely doable, even after a day at work and a significant drive out of town. Best of all, it was a bona fide tertiary market.

I'd driven past the Crepe Place before, but had yet to venture in. It's right across the street from the fabulous Rio Theatre -- and what's not to love about a concert venue that puts food first? But even knowing Santa Cruz's laid-back reputation and the possibilities of seeing a gig at a creperie, I had thoroughly overestimated the room's capacity and formality. The doorman told me the stage was to the right of the entrance, but he neglected to mention the mic stood planted directly on the bar floor, 10 feet from that initial ingress.

In fact, the Crepe Place was divided into two spaces. In the back, diners sat down in the nicely sized restaurant. In the bar, not even 100 people convened to watch the musical act. Funny enough, in terms of setup, the Crepe Place brought to mind the Cellar Door in Visalia and probably a bunch of other venues I've frequented in the past.

Taking the stage, Scott immediately reported that a lady in the audience had asked him not to do "old shit," then let us know she'd be disappointed, as that was his main plan. The rest of the crowd was glad to hear it.

Owl John, 06-23-14, the Crepe Place

For this smaller room, Scott went with the acoustic treatment, borrowing a guitar from Withered Hand, the opener. Once again, he began with "Old Old Fashioned," more recognizable this time in acoustic form. When he called for requests, the small audience turned out to be enthusiastic and fairly knowledgeable. In a repeat of probably every solo gig Scott ever does, "Poke" and "Keep Yourself Warm" jumped out right away, and Scott had to remind the room that he had to save the hits, for fear of everyone leaving prematurely. Here's a hint, based on my attendance of a grand total of three shows: "Poke" and "Keep Yourself Warm" are almost guaranteed to come up, likely near the end of the gig. It pays to be patient.

With an entire Owl John gig already under my belt, I quickly realized that Scott was sticking to the same general song list, with a surprise or two thrown in every night, which I believe is the same model Frightened Rabbit uses. The rarity tonight might've been "Foot Shooter," which was great to hear. I managed to get in a request for "State Hospital," so thanks to Scott for obliging.

Two differences stood out to me about this show. First, Scott seemed even more talkative than usual, and it's not like he'd been taciturn and shy in Los Angeles. For example, he explained that "Scottish Winds" was a song about where he came from, but after a beat clarified it was not about his mother's womb. In fact, he said, he hadn't written a song about his mother's womb ... yet. He also disowned "Snake," from Frightened Rabbit's first record. And in an aside about "Heads Roll Off," he brought up a guy who had been singing a little too well at one of his earlier shows (probably Los Angeles), adding trills and embellishments Scott couldn't do himself. Scott would refer to him as "Beyonce," probably in the best sense possible. Finally, Scott also told us about the time he lost his voice and saw the accompanying medical photos, in which his throat looked a lot like a vagina. Hey-oh!

Scott also briefly brought up seeing Radiohead's Kid A tour and about the metal tuning (drop C) he uses on "Swim Until You Can't See Land." Somehow this led to a riff on Suck Satan's Cock, the band.

The second -- and related -- difference: The show was notably longer than Thursday night's gig. I counted 21 songs at this date, compared to 19 for Los Angeles, but Scott himself noted it was his longest show yet on the tour. There's probably no single reason for this variation. I suspect Scott grew more comfortable over the course of the intervening gigs and simply wanted to play more tunes. Or maybe Santa Cruz was suitably intimate and low key for him to keep going. No one was complaining.

Scott closed the show with "Keep Yourself Warm," the sorrowful Highland howl nearly an instrument on its own. The crowd helped out, and though Los Angeles had us beat in musicality, the audience did well for the numbers. In fact, the handful of enthusiastic, dedicated fans was evident from the beginning and showed Scott he was as welcome in this town as in any metropolis.

Owl John in California
» Los Angeles: four worn-out limbs and not one love song
» San Francisco: her heart beats like a breezeblock

See also
» fans of alcohol
» the high lonesome truth

Saturday, June 28, 2014

overtook me by surprise

This gig was kind of the bonus of the weekend, but it turned out to be a bonus-plus. Not only would I get to see Robyn Hitchcock at the fabled McCabe's Guitar Shop (all the way on the west side!), but the second set would be all covers. Funny thing is I didn't even know the shows had an agenda -- I was happy enough seeing a Robyn one-off.

Robyn Hitchcock, McCabe's Guitar Shop, June 20, 2014Robyn Hitchcock, McCabe's Guitar Shop, June 20, 2014: Here's a fun exercise: Try to picture everyone at a Robyn Hitchcock gig as their younger New Wave selves. Some will be easier than others -- either due to their bone structure, their genetic disposition, or the fact they haven't changed their hairstyle or their fashion philosophy in decades. To be fair, I'll play too. Imagine an exceedingly nerdy, bookish, and math-oriented girl with plain hair and not good eyebrows, but with the suburban girl designer-label wardrobe, and you got me all figured out.

As this was my first trip to McCabe's, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd heard all the stories about the size of the room and its day-to-day function as a working guitar shop, and in those respects, McCabe's didn't disappoint. As a non-musician, I can't guess at the value or desirability of the instruments hanging on the walls, but there sure were a lot of them, in pristine condition. I also liked what surely must've been a well-trodden line warning us in case of emergency, please wait until the staff removes the guitars first. You know they weren't lying.

Robyn wore a polka dot shirt and sunglasses (and pants and shoes) when he first arrived onstage, and the sunglasses stayed on for several songs, accompanied by an explanation no one knew whether to take seriously. As previously stated, the set was devoted to covers, and only now looking at a blog post on another site do I see that he has a collection of covers coming out this fall, but none of the songs on the record surfaced at this show.

Still, it was probably no surprise that the opener was Bob Dylan's "I'm Not There." He then proceeded through a bunch of names you'd probably expect: Ray Davies, the Doors (since we were in Los Angeles), Arthur Lee, and David Bowie, off the top of my head. Robyn's Ray Davies recollection had to do with the sorry state of Ray's shoes. Regarding Bowie, Robyn's run-up to the song involved a discussion of the sax solo, and he cited "Soul Love" as the best use of it before performing the tune itself, including humming the sax portion. I think a Syd Barrett song might've been the second track, but Robyn didn't bother to make a formal introduction -- perhaps it was already obvious to everyone else in the room.

As has been made evidently clear in this blog, I'm well acquainted with certain musical eras, not so much with others, and Robyn hit two songs residing squarely in my wheelhouse. The first was Roxy Music's "Oh Yeah," and what do you know? I actually heard him do this song a few years ago. Though I never made the connection before, it now seems inarguable that Roxy Music must've been a staple for Robyn in his formative years. The song was a surprise and a joy, and I sang along to every word. Sigh.

Another tune might as well have been served up on a silver platter, and Robyn of course had a story for it too, dating back to its origins as a B-side that apparently was quite popular in Maryland. Also, Robyn had received an email from the songwriter the week before, and they remain good friends. The song was "Ghost in You," which was part of my teenage canon, and I may have applauded too enthusiastically in response. This track is, in fact, on the forthcoming record, so we'll all be able to hear it at our convenience soon.

Robyn returned to Dylan for the main set closer, with one of his trademark covers, "Visions of Johanna." I still have no idea how he remembers all the words to that song. I mean, how many verses are in there? Though I'm not much of a Dylan person, I would easily put Robyn's version as one of my favorite Dylan covers in circulation.

If I had one tiny note about Robyn's song selection, I would've liked to hear him cover a song written by a woman, especially since I know he can do it. But for his final song, he went with his own track written for Emmylou Harris, and I believe it will be on the next record.

Coming into the show, I thought maybe we'd get a special guest -- maybe not that special guest, but perhaps the other one? Or any of a dozen others? Almost immediately, it became clear that this was a pipe dream, but Robyn didn't need any of them. He did quite beautifully by himself, accompanied by his inspirations through the years.

See also:
» there's a band playing on the radio
» that's the way the cornbread crumbles
» simple twist of fate
» Take Me Home, Country Pigeon
» i was a new york doll

Thursday, June 26, 2014

four worn-out limbs and not one love song

Let me say at the outset that this is the reason I (1) go to shows and (2) blog about them. The Owl John concert at the Echo not only reminded me of how great live music can be, but also nourished me in the way only an amazing gig can achieve. Also, I'm fully feeling the Frightened Rabbit heart sickness again. Watch out, world!

Owl John, the Echo, June 19, 2014: Last time I was at the Echo, it was known as the Echo Lounge and it was a little less polished than it stood today. The previous gig was great, and this one lived up to those standards too, though in a different way.

Owl John, 06-19-14, the Echo

For those of you who follow Frightened Rabbit and/or Owl John on Twitter and/or Instagram, you may have noticed photos of recording sessions in Laurel Canyon popping up in the past few months. Perhaps you, like me, wondered what music was being recorded. After all, Frightened Rabbit had finished their tour not long ago and it seemed premature to expect new material from them so quickly. It took a while for word to leak of the Owl John record. But even with that tidbit, it was hard to know what to expect. I think we had one track to go on -- but honestly, I didn't need that track to check out this tour.

Scott must've read our minds because he answered that very question almost at the outset. He explained that the Owl John album was supposed to be finished by then, but it didn't quite come together -- so we could expect to hear a bunch of old Frightened Rabbit songs. Oh, the hardship!

Owl John, 06-19-14, the EchoPlaying solo electric guitar, Scott transformed Frightened Rabbit favorites in ways I didn't expect. He opened with "Old Old Fashioned," slow and stretched out, minus the square-dance stomp we know so well. Lately, I've been thinking I'd love to put it on a mix tape next to anything from Wilco's Being There, but this version was a treat too. Then again, you'd have to work pretty hard to screw it up.

Scott asked for requests, but he admitted he was just waiting for a song he was going to play anyway. Of course, a ton of old, obscure tracks were called out, but Scott admitted that the first album was only OK. Also, he couldn't remember a lot of them anyway. Still, we got some great B-sides, including "Fuck This Place" and "Scottish Winds."

I'm not sure Frightened Rabbit has any hits in the United States, so we American fans might be well-suited to hear whatever Scott wanted to play, but certain tracks will always percolate to the top. You're almost guaranteed to hear "My Backwards Walk" and "The Twist," but I wouldn't say the others were entirely expected -- which is not to say they weren't welcome. For example, "Oil Slick" surfaced, and as I've stated before, it's emerged as a favorite from Pedestrian Verse, but I'm a sucker for songs that use music as an analogy (see: many, many Wilco song). The dark-horse track might've been "Floating in the Forth," which was pretty and lovely.

Along the way, Scott also indulged in raconteur mode. For example, he revealed that "The Wrestle" was not, in fact, about fighting a shark. Rather, the topic was fucking (his word) -- which should come as no surprise to anyone who's listened to the lyrics on Midnight Organ Fight. He also revealed that one song was sort of stolen from an Eagle Eye Cherry track and he kind of channeled a character from Family Guy for another song. Due to my lack of knowledge on either topic, I can't confirm these claims.

I love L.A. shows, and I think the city gets a bad rep for obnoxious crowds. I suppose if you go to trendy gigs, you'll run into your share of scenesters and industry folks. Overall, that hasn't been my experience, and I suspect a lot of the people who buy the tickets are regular folks driving in from the deep suburbs to see their favorite musicians. Beyond that, L.A. gigs have a lot more going for them. For one thing, there are so many to choose from! But one unique element came up at this show.

Sure, you've heard the stories about people moving to Los Angeles for their acting, writing, dancing, music, what have you career. Make of that what you will, but there's an unexpected benefit to their presence. Sometimes, they contribute to a show, and they sound great.

At this Owl John gig, we first heard it on the fifth track, "Holy," when the crowd started clapping spontaneously to the beat of the song. We (ha!) sounded so good that Scott stopped to compliment us and get a dig in at his brother at the same time. This continued for other songs, reaching a peak with "The Loneliness and the Scream," which was just about as good as the full-band version.

Let me clarify: Nothing will beat the full-band version as a sensory tsunami, but with only Scott's guitar to accompany us, our clapping and yelling enjoyed the spotlight -- and we delivered.

Do you have a favorite song with a particular riff that fills you with anticipation and makes you want to scream as you wait for it to hit? Maybe a riff inspires a Pavlovian response in you, moving you to jump around, bellow from your innermost core, punch the person next to you? Off the top of my head, "Laminated Cat" by Loose Fur does that for me, as does any Jon Brion performance of "Heroes" -- and the same goes for "The Loneliness and the Scream." Those four little notes get me every time, and that song is guaranteed to plant itself into my brain for at least a week after any live performance. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep that night and woke up the next morning still humming the melody and tapping my foot to the rhythm. I love almost every song Scott and/or Frightened Rabbit plays, but I need "The Loneliness and the Scream." Otherwise, it isn't a gig to me. Fortunately, both Scott and the band have obliged every time.

Owl John, 06-19-14, the Echo

As an audience, our other achievement might've involved the final song, "Keep Yourself Warm," where we sang almost as beautifully as that hometown crowd I've already referenced in a previous blog post. I hope it felt good for Scott because I'm pretty sure it felt great for us.

I should mention Scott played two new songs off the forthcoming record, and the industry aspect reared its head when an audience member requested an unreleased tune. I can't describe the songs, except to say I look forward to their official drop date.

Scott also told us he was now a resident of Los Angeles and, encouraged by the response at the Echo, hoped to do a lot more of these solo gigs in the near future. I, for one, welcome him to the best coast. There's a lot to like here.

Owl John in California
» Santa Cruz: give me soft, soft static
» San Francisco: her heart beats like a breezeblock

See also
» lots to do with magnets and the pull of the moon
» there is light but there's a tunnel to crawl through

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

the nucleus burning inside of the cell

Hey look! Multiple gigs in a month -- with more to follow. Ah, it's nice to be back, especially to see Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, aka the Both (now officially named), in their return to San Francisco, this time at the Great American Music Hall.

The Both, Great American Music Hall, 06-12-14The Both, Great American Music Hall, June 12, 2014: Last year, when the Both tested the waters together at Bottom of the Hill, they seemed serious in their intent, though many questions lingered -- specifically, when their record would come out and how many songs would be on it. The process took longer than expected, but they made good and even took the show on the road for the rest of the United States (and overseas?) to witness.

A year on, their show has changed in only the fine details, but certainly not in the spirit or the execution. For one thing, they have a drummer now, though I didn't catch his name. Also, they have the aforementioned album to play and not a mishmash of their solo compositions and collaborative tracks (not that there's anything wrong with that). Among the band tracks, "You Can't Help Me Now" grabbed me most firmly, perhaps because it bore all the trademark signs of classic Aimee tracks. On the other hand, I never would've pegged "Hummingbird" as an Aimee song -- maybe due to its unlikely inspiration, Ted's love of Tolkien. In any case, they managed to forgo the Led Zeppelin treatment and turn it into a pretty, pastoral song you'd never otherwise relate to Middle Earth.

The Both, Great American Music Hall, 06-12-14If you missed them the first time around, you needn't worry too much, as they revived some of their greatest hits, including the Pussy Rules first imparted at Bottom of the Hill. Honestly, this story needs to be heard and may be reason enough for anyone to see a Both show. We got a slight twist at the Great American: Either someone in the audience had heard the story before or she was the author of said rules. Whatever the explanation, she was clearly dying to get in on the action and interjected a slight spoiler at the start of the yarn. This threw Aimee and Ted for a bit, but they resumed raconteur duties shortly thereafter. We also got a story about playing at a political event, where Hillary Clinton reportedly swayed to "Save Me" and Jeb Bush probably felt pressured to compliment their performance.

Overall, their banter and interaction have strengthened, which is saying a lot, considering how relaxed they look last year. Ted told a story about taking a spiritual retreat in Napa, complete with a naked dip at the local hot springs, and though she wasn't there to witness it, Aimee took it upon herself to fill us in on one of the guests, "Mr. Knee Bush" (use your imagination). Aimee also said she'd never do that unless she was in an old-timey bathing suit. On the same anatomical note, they opened the show with Aimee griping about a certain brand of toilet paper's current TV campaign featuring cartoon bears. Ted took the honor of repeating the unfortunate slogan ("enjoy the go") since Aimee couldn't bring herself to say the words.

I'm happy to report one portion of the show that hasn't changed is the inclusion of "Voices Carry." Though Aimee continues to qualify it as a song she wrote a long time ago and they only perform it because she likes to hear him take the falsetto, Ted is just as steadfast in his view of it as a "stone-cold classic." I'm with him on that count.

Nick and Evan from Islands opened the show. Because I'm old, I couldn't pick out Islands from a police lineup if I tried. Also, how many "islands" bands are in operation these days? We probably weren't the most enthusiastic audience, apart from the two younger ladies near me, but I guess we showed slightly more life than the show-goers from the night before. (C'mon, it was Napa on a Wednesday night.) The set was about half covers (I think), but the stand-out track was an original, "Shotgun Vision." Even in the acoustic arrangement, you could hear its power and energy.

The Both, Great American Music Hall, 06-12-14

See also:
» hush hush keep it down now

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

give us G&T and sympathy

Hey, I'm back from vacation, which means I'm done saving for vacation, and I'm free to spend money on concert tickets again. How was the holiday? (Thanks for asking!) It was great, and my legs are so tan now (quite a feat in the land of fog). But I have to be honest: I was ready to come home and wear clean clothes. The prospect of catching Elbow at the Fox Theater didn't hurt either.

Elbow, Fox Theatre, 05-27-14Elbow, Fox Theater, May 27, 2014: I've said it before: I don't know how people hear music anymore. Personally, I cling to an old-fashioned mix of friends' recommendations (kind of), industry buzz (to a certain extent), and KEXP podcasts (weekly), but it's an imperfect system. At the Elbow concert, I asked around because so many people in proximity were newbies -- though not to other concerts I've attended. One woman cited Peter Gabriel's patronage, which isn't a surprise, given the sound of the first album. Her son also mentioned the use of Elbow's music in a couple of video games.

I bring this up because this was easily the biggest paying audience I'd yet seen Elbow play to in the United States (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass doesn't count), and frankly, the venue was a tad too large for them. They probably should've played the Warfield, but the Fox kept it cozy by closing off the upper section of seats (a move the Warfield might want to borrow, judging by the Frightened Rabbit show last fall, to name one recent gig).

Elbow rose to the occasion, regardless of raw numbers. The normally five-piece band added a couple of ladies on strings, to fully augment their grand, sweeping sound. But of course, the attention remained on the core players, particularly Guy Garvey. He wasted no time on welcoming us personally and paying respect to the Fox. Is it crowd work? Maybe, but it was an unabashed success.

Elbow, Fox Theatre, 05-27-14

I don't get to the Fox a whole lot, so I don't know where the bar is set for a theater-size show, but Elbow's production was impressive and probably borrowed elements from its stadium presentation abroad. In addition to the extra musicians, they poured on a light show and pretty stage adornments, including the album cover blown up as the backdrop and a single mirrorball hanging from the rafters for -- what else? -- "Mirrorball."

Elbow, Fox Theatre, 05-27-14Looking at the setlist, the band played a relatively short set, at least compared to some of the bands I favor, especially one with so many records in its catalog: 15 songs in all. On the other hand, their tunes are dense, complex affairs, and the 15 songs probably packed the power of at least 20 from any other group. At some point in a band's career, they are no longer able to perform every song that the fans may want to hear and must cherry-pick among their titles. I understand this, but I'm a tiny bit miffed we got only one song from the first record ("Scattered Black and Whites") and didn't hear perhaps my favorite Elbow song of all, "Station Approach." Waaaaah!

But among the songs played, you couldn't say they were anything less than balls-out performances. Every song felt like an experience, helped both by the musical onslaught of seven musicians playing together and by Guy's encouragement to sing along, wave our arms, and clap to the beat. In anyone else's hands, this might've been manipulation. At an Elbow show, it instead feels like the most natural action you can take.

What Elbow's audience may have lacked in sheer numbers, they made up for in enthusiasm and ardor. As a fool who has to stand in the front at every show, I don't have the best sense of the crowd reaction. Usually, the people around me eat it up, but the rest of the crowd might be sitting on their hands, for all I know. Quite simply, this was not possible at the Elbow show, at least not with Guy pointing at people in the crowd and urging the balcony to get up out of their seats. By your command, Mr. Garvey, including the guy who accidentally knocked me in the back of the head while caught up in the full throes of emotion. (He earnestly apologized.)

Elbow, Fox Theatre, 05-27-14

I can't highlight only one song from the show, so I'll mention several. From the new album, The "Fly Boy Blue/Lunette" mashup is fantastic to hear, particularly how the two halves align. "The Birds" is always a jawdropper, from its hypnotic intro to its cathartic build to the soaring refrain. If you're going to bang your head at an Elbow show, this is the song for you! "Grounds for Divorce" also delivers a visceral thrill, with a snarling tone that might even come close to the topic under discussion. As a total pushover, though, I'll cite the the encore of "Lippy Kids" and "One Day Like This" as the best closing combination you could hope for.

I probably fixate on Guy way too much at Elbow shows, but he lives up to his role as frontman. An informal poll of friends after the gig reached the same conclusion. Guy is truly magnetic, but lest you think it's an ego show, I'd like to mention each band member gets a share of the spotlight. In fact, Guy practically opened the show with a multiple-choice question addressing the Band-Aid on Pete Turner's head. I think the general consensus said Pete had saved a grandma and her kitties from a burning building, but I suspect the Queens of the Stone Age may have been involved in the mishap.

Elbow, Fox Theatre, 05-27-14

Watching Guy, I was reminded of a quote I read a million years ago in an interview with -- don't laugh -- Simon LeBon. As I recall, he asserted there are very few true lyricists; most musicians get away with a good line or lines, but a fully detailed train of thought is a rarity. I'm going to slot Guy Garvey into this rare category of lyricist. Listen to "Lippy Kids," and revel in the mix of observation and identification with the young charges -- then try to tell me you haven't been there at some point in your life.

I don't assume we'll get to see Elbow in a mere two years from now, but should they return, I can easily imagine whole roomfuls of fans clamoring to hear from them, no matter where they play.

Elbow, Fox Theatre, 05-27-14

John Grant opened the show, and even with his stripped-down arrangements, he was a good match for the band. He too delivered raw, emotional songs about loves lost and unmet expectations, though with a more sardonic view. "Sigourney Weaver" and "GMF" went over quite well, but his fans in the audience welcomed every song with hoots and cries.

See also:
» one day like this a year
» throw those curtains wide