Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gig review: Elbow in a Roundhouse

It may have taken 18 years, but Elbow have finally made it: A top five album, a Mercury Music Prize, and a three-night stint at Camden's Roundhouse. "We've never done a residency before," says Guy Garvey as the gig gets underway, "I could get used to it... We could open a little bar in Spain and call it El Bow."

I'd rather they stayed put in Camden. The intimate atmosphere and perfect acoustics at the Roundhouse (formerly a shed used to turn around steam trains, fact fans) provided the perfect setting for Elbow's delicate, heartfelt ballads. And the atmosphere on Saturday night was simply beautiful - with the entire audience seemingly there to celebrate and share in the group's belated success.

"It's just occurred to me that this gig sold out before the Mercury," noted Garvey with obvious glee.

The set focused on the new material, which was brought to life with a powerful, yet understated, sincerity. It was one of those gigs where you don't want to watch the band at all, just close your eyes and be swept away by the tidal highs and lows of the music. The wistful Some Riot and majestic Mirrorball stood out as highlights, as did the rousing sing-along of Grounds For Divorce - one of the few moments where the band really let rip.

Garvey was a genial host throughout, introducing the crowd to his mother and continually inquiring after the audience's wellbeing. A minor technical fault led to an impromptu Q&A session, with the singer fielding questions on the world's largest land mammal and the temperature on stage [there's a clip on youtube (youtube)]

The show's climax came with One Day Like This, probably the most criminally underplayed single of the year. The song's rousing, extended crescendo - "Throw those curtains wide / one day like this a year would see me right" - rang on and on after the band left the stage, providing the best alternative to shouting "more" or "encore" I've ever heard.

All in all, it was a magical evening. One that provided a real sense of northern community in a town known for its stand-offishness. If Elbow can translate that warmth and humanity to their arena gigs next year, they'll deservedly become one of Britain's best-loved bands.

Elbow - The Loneliness Of The Tower Crane Driver (live)

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