Elbow - The Hydro, Glasgow, Sun 6 Apr 2014
The odd moment of intimacy can't save an indistinct and unremarkable performance devoid of subtlety
This article is from 2014.
Surprisingly, perhaps, for those who remember the days when Elbow were (unjustly) a byword for indie mediocrity, plodding along with minimal recognition except when being mocked for their daft name, Guy Garvey is these days quite the showman. If he’s not exhorting us to shout if we’re in love, or telling us we’re still not louder than Birmingham, he’s switching ‘Irish’ for ‘Scotch’ in the lyrics to a song for a cheap cheer. And the catwalk! Is it left over from the previous night’s Justin Timberlake show or a permanent fixture of this tour? We can’t be sure, but Garvey makes full use of it, taking bizarre promenades down his undulating runway, the better to lean out into the adoring arms of his fans. Maybe it’s something about having been subjected to that song over one too many emotion-filled montages in Holby City / Big Brother / the Olympics, but it all feels ever so slightly manipulative.
A set full of material drawn mostly from recent release The Take Off and Landing of Everything and its predecessor Build a Rocket Boys! is well received by the crowd, but the albatross of ‘One Day Like This’ hangs heavy around Elbow’s necks – much of the material on those two records feels like it’s straining to be an anthem of such colossal proportions, and getting nowhere interesting in the process. In the pursuit of epicness, Elbow seem to have lost all the subtlety that once made them such an interesting band: every weary reference to the banality of mainstream culture has to be spelled out and repeated, as in ‘Fly Boy Blue / Lunette’, which also features a sore-thumb of a heavily distorted and overloud guitar solo.
When Garvey brings brothers Craig (on piano) and Mark Potter (guitar) out to the end of his runway with him for a quieter, literally inward-looking performance of ‘The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver’, it’s one of the best moments of the night – impassioned and less full of bombast and studied earthy-pub-philosophy-style pronouncements. The next track (‘Great Expectations’) is the night’s only foray into Elbow’s first three albums and starts off equally interestingly with just piano and vocals, before the rest of the band (including strings and brass section) crashes back into the picture, marking the end of anything understated about tonight’s show.
Garvey’s patter gets slightly more amusing as the red wine he’s been swigging throughout takes effect and he seems a bit more ragged around the edges, and second from the (faux-)end, ‘Grounds for Divorce’ is a stomping triumph and real stadium moment, but for too much of the rest of the gig, the sound made by the band is indistinct and unremarkable, the songs meandering and the sentiment of the words pat and clumsy. ‘One Day Like This’ comes at the end, of course, so we can all file out with the Pavlovian taste of bittersweet optimism and passion for something-or-other in our mouths, feeling like we’ve had a grand old time.