At the peak of their success, Elbow bring euphoric indie rock to the Forum
“I feel like I’m in your pockets, in your handbags and in your wallets. And in many ways, I am.”
“That’s not where I was going with that.”
Bumbling, non sequitur stage banter like this would most likely be met by crossed arms and eye rolls if not delivered by hirsute Elbow frontman Guy Garvey. He’s incredibly chilled out, warm and welcoming – a hospitable barman pulling pints in a cosy pub. No fancy moves, plain, black shirt, cuddly Northern accent asking “is everyone OK?” When the Manchester five-piece sidle onto the Forum stage and raise a beer to their audience, it’s easy to forget that this is a group that can boast multi-platinum records, a Mercury prize, a UK number one for their recent sixth album The Take Off and Landing of Everything and a subsequent London O2 Arena gig.
The band is met not by shrieks and whistles, but by beaming smiles and open arms. Once a middling, prog-influenced English band with a cult following, there’s a feeling that this is far from the first time that many audience members have spent an evening with Garvey and the guys.
But it is the first time we’ve heard the new stuff, and the band kicks off with ‘Charge’: the second track on the new record. Garvey practically sinks into the microphone, wrapping his warm, husky voice around the pulsating, off-kilter melody. Like the new record, ‘Charge’ is a promising start: darker, harder; a departure from the anthemic, stirring songs that one music journo describes as “only ever a sonic bollock hair from Coldplay”. Unfortunately, the record falls back into comfortable ground all too often; sweeping orchestral highs, ruminative lows.
So it is on stage, too: the four musicians (plus two violinists) are faultlessly tight, but follow a rather predictable set list that keeps to the previous three albums – Take Off, 2011’s Build a Rocket Boys! and 2008's Mercury prize-winning Seldom Seen Kid. The saving grace is that Garvey inhabits each song completely, reaching one hand out into the far reaches of the Forum, letting it rise and fall in measured strokes like a conductor, pressing fingers together on lyrics that he wants us to feel. The most powerful moments occur in songs like ‘the Night Will Always Win’, which he dedicates to “absent friends,” belting painfully emotive lyrics like ‘I miss your stupid face/I miss your bad advice’ under sparse chords. Other times (and too often) Garvey implores the audience to wave their hands in the air, when a more natural reaction to ballads like 'Mirrorball' is to simply stand and soak them up.
But any unease is swept away by a magisterial rendition of ‘the Birds’ – the centerpiece of the set. The band lengthens out the orchestral bridge, giving the pulsing track room to swell. So it is with its tenderly nostalgic sister song, ‘Lippy Kids’, and finally, the obligatory sing-a-long to ‘One Day Like This’: the hit that propelled Elbow to platinum status in 2008. Garvey barely has to ask, and he has the whole audience lifting their voices to the Forum’s starry ceiling, singing the song’s final chorus, creating their own harmonies, reveling in the shared moment.
Tickets are still available for tonight's show.