Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sharp Elbow

For the first time since Ruby was born two and a half years ago I have been to a gig. Elbow. Winners of the Mercury Music Prize. Critically acclaimed, commercially struggling.

What I like about Elbow, as well as their music is a) that they are old (mid-late 30s) b) that they are from Bury, where I grew up and c) that they took a long time to come good

Yes, you guess it, they remind me of myself, while at the same time making me feel that although I am 39 it is still possible, in a parallel universe,to have Glastonbury eating out of my hand. I like Elbow in much the same way I loved Teddy Sheringham for still scoring the odd Premiership goal at 40.

The Corn Exchange in Cambridge was sold out before the Mercury Prize was announced so only true believers were present. The band didn't disappoint. To leaven their immobile, older selves, a string quartet of sparingly-but-tastefully dressed women occupied the rear of the stage at various points.

Elbow is really about Guy Garvey, the porcine singer and songwriter who combines a versatile voice with a passionate stage presence. But he is no swaggerer. Garvey is un-remittingly nice, at one point stopping a song dead in order to take girl out of the crowd who had passed out.

Garvey's songs reflect the rainy skies under which he grew up, the pubs he drank in and the web of relationships that make up a life. Longing and connection are both big themes but underneath you always feel the sadness of wet streets on an aimless Tuesday afternoon in the North West.

Elbow are `alternative' but have an unusual sound that makes itself known through a mixture of a slowish rhythm and a certain songwriting style coupled with some very interesting arrangements. They are loud, often drawn-out but never fast or poppy. `Weather to Fly', `Starlings' and `One Fine Day' - all from award-winning `Seldom Seen Kid' - were the show's best moments.

As usual I was relieved when the lights came up (an hour is usually enough for me) but felt glad I had bothered. Its good to a band clearly appreciating that this is their moment and having the wisdom the play it to the max.

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