Elbow: leaders of the free world! 11.03.05. Hiro Ballroom
by Charlotte Deaver
Even though I didn't know their music well, I was really excited about seeing Elbow live. First of all, they don't play in the U.S. that often -- they're Brits, from Manchester. I see a lot of bands that are so damn young, and have the indie-kid cool thing that is all well and good, but can get clique-ish and tiresome. And this band just seemed smart. Not intellectual or overconceived, but thoughtful, soulful.
In some ways Elbow compares to many other old school-style British invasion bands, with moody layers of sound and classic keyboard and guitar arrangements -- nothing too out of bounds or experimental. The lead singer's voice is even slightly familiar (he sounds, among others, like Paul Carrack of Squeeze and Mike + the Mechanics).
But this is not an ordinary British band. If they do comply with some classic British rock standards, they also exceed them. They may draw us in with those familiar sounds, but they will then take us elsewhere, veer us off track, as each song seeks yet another tone, atmosphere, or mood. Guy Garvey, the lead songwriter and singer, writes melodies for and with his main instrument, his voice. And what a voice! It's full, sexy, textured, emotional, and spot on key.
I was flying solo that night, and felt a tinge of social awkwardness as I waited for the band to come on stage. I had arrived early, so I just parked myself right in front of the stage and waited it out. Of course, I ended up chatting with many of the other first-row fans, who were much more familiar with Elbow's music than I was. The only song I knew when I bought my ticket last month was "Buttons and Zips," although I had recently listened to several more, including "Scattered Black and Whites," the song that had me crying during all those hormonal days last week.
They began the set with "Station Approach," a song that drives an insistent, pulsing beat for several verses and then cracks open in the middle. They had us hooked from the first note and never let go. Needless to say, we were quite the adoring audience.
Guy came out on stage walking with a cane, and sat on a stool for most of the show, which I thought was interesting. He later made reference to a mysterious injury, inquiring why no one had asked him about his foot. He chattered a lot with the audience, actually, asking many questions and making everyone laugh. During a technical difficulty, he started a little question and answer that earned him a few dances and a date. Even made him blush.
Throughout the set, several of us begged for "Scattered Black and Whites," which I knew was not on the set list. When we finally got the song, I felt like one of those girls in a Beatles movie who faints with joy and over-excitement. Don't worry -- I restrained myself. Next time they play here, though, I make no promises.