Gig review: Elbow, First Direct Arena, Leeds

Guy Garvey of Elbow at the First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Guy Garvey of Elbow at the First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

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If the music ever dries up, Elbow should write a guide to putting on arena shows for those who haven’t figured it out yet.

Shows of this scale are meant to be bombastic, impersonal affairs full of overstatement, hollow gestures and an impeachable distance between the stars on stage and the mere mortals in their overpriced seats.

Not tonight. Starting with the fittingly titled ‘Charge’, a muscular highlight new album ‘The Take Off and Landing of Everything’, the Manchester five-piece almost instantaneously conjure an atmosphere that’s remarkably close to a gathering of pals (who just haven’t happened to have met before).

The band’s peerless ability to connect with a super-sized crowd is even more impressive considering the complexity and subtlety of much of the music aired tonight. The band’s unglamorous reputation as a ‘people’s band’ suggests cosy platitudes, but the likes of the slow-burning ‘Mirroball’, the audience bathed in shards of white light, exemplify adventurous music that manages to combine artistic ambition with an uncommonly high quantity of human warmth.

Even with a string and brass section alongside them, it’s often easier to notice what isn’t being played. The gritty nostalgia of ‘Lippy Kids’, for example, consists mostly

of silence, yet Elbow somehow turn its fragmentary drift into a communal sing-along that packs plenty of anthemic qualities. Performed as an acoustic trio, ‘Great

Expectations’ - from 2005’s ‘Leaders of the Free World, the only moment tonight that harks beyond 2008’s Mercury-winning ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ - is a moment of open- armed beauty capable of silencing even the most boozed-up spectator.

Much of the band’s pulling power resides in singer Guy Garvey. Garvey works the crowd tirelessly but there’s not an ounce of greasy showmanship on display: a charming, warm and funny presence, he seems genuinely interested in our enjoyment; it’s a performance that smacks less of rehearsed routines than genuine enjoyment of the music and the company. Mass singalongs, invitations to wave your hands in the air, handshakes and banter with the crowd: arena cliches roll by, but it all feels totally sincere, a natural counterweight to the serious intent of, say, the stunning ‘Night Will Always Win’, a soaring near-acapella eulogy to a departed friend that proves what a fine singer (and lyricist) Garvey is. It takes a brave band to tackle a song so uncompromisingly sparse in these outsized settings, but the results inspire total concentration rather than a rush to the bar.

Predictably, the set finishes with ‘One Day Like This’, the inescapable track that elevated Elbow to the big leagues after years on the B-list. You’d expect it to be dispatched with begrudgingly as a compulsory acknowledgement of the band’s one big hit, but it turns into a genuinely jubilant moment, the strength of the crowd’s

singing demonstrating the level of fondness this remarkable band inspire.

Elbow is often thought of as a band it’s impossible to hate. On tonight’s evidence, there are plenty of reasons to love them.

Gig review date: Friday April 11