My Dad‘s a wise old fella. He doesn’t say much really, especially on the phone. “How you doing? How’s work? Everything all right then? Right, here’s your Mam.” It’s not that we don’t get on, we do. Very well in fact, but like my Dad always says, “No news is good news.” Actually he doesn’t say that very often, he says, “If I don’t hear from you I know everything’s alright.” He also says that if any of our phone conversations last over two minutes then either a) there’s something wrong at home or b) I’m in need of money again. My Dad‘s a clever fella really, although he is prone to stating the obvious as well, “Boy that ice cream’s cold.” He’s a likeable fella though is my Dad. You should meet him, he’s lovely. You’d probably get on with him more than I do, although it myust be stated that our relationship has improved considerably now that I’ve stopped calling asking for money every month. (Thanks MR Bank Manager!)
My Dad‘s taught me many valuable lessons in life, “Don’t drink the bleach, Damian” “Paint is not for eating, Damian” and “If you’re riding your bike through the park Damian, try to look at the path in front of you instead of what’s up in the trees.” (Can you tell what type of kid I was yet?) One of the most important lessons my Dad has taught me was to “never go out of your way to impress people. Just be yourself and do the best you can.” I’m sure you’re wondering where the hell all this is going but I started thinking of my Dad half way through Elbow’s set tonight. For starters, they sounded amazing. Clean, crisp and totally clear I don’t think I’ve heard many bands sound so impressive live. But what struck me was that, whilst everything they do has a number of layers to it and the wall of sound that they create is mightily impressive, it’s all made up of very simple elements. There’s nothing flash about Elbow. Sure they’re impressive and look like a real bona fide rock band, with daft haircuts and facial hair, but there’s a real earthiness to them as well. Maybe it’s because they come from Bury? After all, if you try and act like a flash get round there then you’ll very quickly be brought back down to Earth with a swift right hook. Bury’s on the outskirts of Manchester, that most English of cities, for those that don’t know and by that I mean that it rains there almost all of the time and whilst everybody there moans about it being a shithole they’re all very protective of it. There’s a strange love/hate relationship between Manchester and its people and that attitude has rubbed off on almost every band to come out of the region, from The Smiths to Joy division, from Happy Mondays to Elbow themselves.
If you were to give them a listen you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a lot of doom and gloom in Elbow’s music, but give it a chance and you’ll discover that their music is incredibly uplifting and in Guy Garvey they have a lyricist that’s able to talk about incredibly personal subjects in an objective manner and, most importantly, with a self deprecating sense of humour. Take Mexican Standoff for example, one of tonight’s highlights. A song about jealousy it feels incredibly claustrophobic, honest and yet it never once descends into anything mawkish or self pitying.
“Your sweet reassurances don’t change the fact
That he’s better looking than me.
Yeah he’d look ideal ‘neath the wheels of a car
Oh Mexican standoff. I wish I was hard.”
Don’t you just love that last line? Like I said, it’s top quality stuff and musically the song is astonishing, especially live. Getting the crowd to belt out the intro with some frenzied handclapping the guitars just began to wind themselves and the crowd into a coil and as the drums pounded on through the pressure built up and up, until Garvey’s screaming caused the whole thing to just explode at the end. Astonishing.
He may be a big bear of a man, but Guy Garvey has pipes to die for and it seems that no matter how much he chain smokes through a gig that never changes. It’s obvious on tonight’s showing that Elbow are a band on top of their game and having seen them on a number of occasions, it’s great to see just how much more impressive they’ve become over time. From the likeable lads who stood on this very stage a few years ago plugging Asleep in the Back to the gnarling monster that confronted me this evening, it’s almost hard to describe how much better they’ve become. They seemed right at home here at the Melkweg that first time I saw them but tonight it felt like they were almost too big for the room. Their presence is immense, their sound so precise that I felt they should have knocked down the walls and let another couple of thousand people in. If ever a band deserved to move up to a bigger venue it’s Elbow.
They played Scattered Black and Whites tonight, which reminded me of just how good they were back then and they closed with a traditional but still highly charged Newborn, but it’s the new material, Station approach, Picky Bugger and the wonderful Forget Myself that really showcase what they can do. They keep it simple, they keep it real and they keep it honest but they don’t have make it sound so impressive. I would recommend Elbow to everybody because if you catch them on this form they are everything you want from a band. Great character, great front man, great songs and ultimately great entertainment. They’ll make you feel better about yourself and you can’t ask much more from a band than that.
Words: Damian Leslie