Elbow at The Birmingham NIA – Review

Elbow have aways come across as quite a different band – it’s one of the things that attracted me to them a few years ago (that and the brilliant ‘One Day Like This’). I was therefore expecting a very different kind of gig when I set off for Birmingham yesterday to see the band for the first time.

And I was right to expect different. You get the idea from the moment you step into the arena and are greeted by a massive red curtain, a chandelier style light above it and several unusually shaped gold photo frames at the forefront. These frames would later house images of the band members (each moving slightly at random moments so that you felt as if you were in a Harry Potter film!) – good entertainment as we wait for the main attraction.

As the moment neared the lights dimmed as normal and the band left their photo frames to appear on stage. And this brilliant stage production continued thoughout the night in one of the most visually impressive shows I have ever witnessed – but more on that later.

The show opened – unsurprisingly – with the first song of the bands latest LP, ‘The Birds’ – a song I originally appreciated, but now absolutely adore after seeing the more rockier live version.

The band showcased mostly new songs from ‘Build a Rocket Boys’ all of which I felt took on a massively improved presence when played live. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in my audio review of the album that I felt some songs were a little too samey and on the slow almost monotonous side. But this was not the case last night as each tune was brought alive in a much more powerful and effective way. I found myself really enjoying an LP I had previously seen as average.

Highlights from the new tracks have to be ‘Neat Little Rows’ which is a beast of a rock song when played live and ‘Open Arms’ which has incredible power and presence in the room. I defy you to raise a smile to this song!

The rest of the set list consisted mostly of tracks from ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ – no bad thing for myself as I’m mostly familiar with these two albums, but I could see some older fans being a little disappointed with the lack of back-catalogue, ‘Leaders of the free world’ for example should have been included.

But none the less, those included were fantastic including a very powerful rendition of ‘The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver’ and the best finale ever from ‘One Day Like This’.

The musical arrangement was impeccably put together. There was a wide variety from the all out rock songs like ‘Grounds for Divorce’ to the acoustic and moving ‘Puncture Repair’ followed by the slow-starting-with-a-massive-crescendo (!) ‘Some Riot.

And to compliment the bad, there were musicians playing strings on stage which I was very pleased to see. It makes the whole performance seem so much bigger and complete. Orchestral instruments have become a must with Elbow.

Throughout the show, the presentation was some of the best I have seen. The lighting is not the biggest and best I have seen, but each song had a perfect mood set by the cleverly chosen lighting arrangements. Guy Garvey constantly moved between the inner stage and main stage to keep things very interesting.

The stage evolved over the show, ditching the photo frames early on and ending up with projections all over the back curtain – sometimes quick moving, sometimes more slow and serene – the lighting and creative teams really got this just right!

But perhaps the reason that this show came together so well and was very enjoyable, was the frontman Guy Garvey. Throughout, Guy brought in audience participation, banter and some sections which even felt like a stand-up comedy show (future career anyone). He was fantastic at keeping the atmosphere alive and high spirits throughout which only enhanced the music even more.

I did find the whole experience a little strange. It’s the first gig in ages where I haven’t stood up and the experience did seem a little odd at first. There’s also the fact that the whole show was very stop-start unlike most rock shows I’ve seen. Oh, and the rather random cocktail night put in the middle of it. But all of this made the night special and fun and a thoroughly enjoyable show.

When I decided to see Elbow, I thought ‘It will be nice to see them once’. Now I’m looking forward to the next time. They really do know how to put on a show and their musical genius has never sounded so damn awesome!

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