[sic] Magazine

Elbow – Manchester Evening News Arena – 18/09/09

Sorry Fiery Furnaces, the allure of superior dark mild at an enticing £1.28 a pint is too great to pass up. Here’s assuming ‘Tropical Iceland’ was great, and that the much-lauded new material was equally beguiling. Actually, snobbish trepidation prolongs the arrival at the arena. And it is with a cooler-than-thou trudge that the walk from a city-centre beer-haven is taken. Initial book-by-cover judgement is proved ambivalently correct, an ill-educated looking throng block one of the many plastic entrances to the arena. Some demand tickets, some simply mill around, more smoke furiously. For tonight, once in, there is no re-admittance. Elbow aim to prove stimulant enough.

It is easy to please with a homecoming show and difficult to impress. The majority of those in attendance want and expect a piped run through of the Mercury-winning album, nothing more. With 143 shows down, one to go on the Seldom Seen Kid (Frequently Heard) tour, would Guy Garvey and the boys settle for happy mediocrity, playing it safe before an self-imposed, two-and-half-year hiatus?

Initially, yes. The pleasing plod of opener ‘Starlings’ swirls around the cavernous arena mostly unnoticed to the backing images of the Seldom Seen Kid cover cube’s unfurling into a toppled cross. This, tonight, it would seem, will equally be Elbow exposed and also a preaching, literally, to the choir. However, it takes Garvey’s cute questioning three tracks in, (“Who’s in love? ….. I suggest you try it.”), to kick start the evening along with the accompanying and accomplished ‘Mirrorball’. The strains of ‘we kissed like we invented it’ have never sound more heartfelt.

Then, Garvey transforms from shuffling frontman into commanding preacher and affable entertainer. After a pleasing reminder of the title track to Leaders of the Free World, Garvey goes on to claim a world-record attempt of all things. Flanked by 2700 white-clad and willing audience members, the return to Free World is taken up a notch to the echo-y backing of ‘don’t look downs’ during ‘The Stops’.

Screen test

Such audaciousness is matched with Richard Hawley’s onstage arrival for a menacing rendition of ‘The Fix’ after himself deadpanning about hurrying up so he could get catch his bus. Before the choir is reprised for the arena-sized, blue-ish stomp of Seldom Seen Kid’s title track, the less confident but more emotive Asleep In The Back is revisited with ‘Bitten By The Tail-Fly’. The pre-encore set closes with an extended and quivering version of ‘Newborn’ from the same album, which, along with the so-so plod of the earlier ‘The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver’, is met by the gentle waving of viewfinders thanks to the naked flame ban.

Before leaving the stage for the encore, puppet master Garvey summons the entire crowd to sing The Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’ in the interval, a request duly completed enthusiastically, if not competently by the Manchester faithful. The encore sees a little more of Seldom Seen Kid dusted down in the shape of ‘Some Riot’ before the choir’s evening comes to a close in the two-parts of ‘Weather To Fly’. First, Elbow croon it a cappella, moments after the forgivable indulgence of an onstage toast, then are bolstered on command by the choir for a more rounded effort.

Arena anthems

So it is with deserved ovation they finish with the anthemic and pride-inducing ‘One Day Like This’, Garvey taking to the crowd amidst pyrotechnics and glitter bombs. And in fairness, right now, in the city they repeatedly and deservedly call ‘beautiful’, there is scarce a more beautiful place to be than amongst the raining glitter.