Last night Elbow played their one and only US show for this year at NYC’s Hiro Ballroom. I have very mixed feelings about that particular choice for a venue, which has mediocre sound and the stage was built way too low, but that mattered not last night. This was a chance for Elbow fans to catch a sneak peek at what was to come from the band in 2006, and nothing was going to put a damper on the crowd’s excitement. Last night I was reminded of what I enjoy most about this band, which is their absolute lack of really giving a shit about current trends in music or fashion. They seem like normal dudes who just do their own thing, which just happens to include making some of the most beautiful rock songs around.
The depth of their live performance seems to get even grander each time I see them, somehow making their songs more expressive than the last time they stopped through NYC. Frontman Guy Garvey, one of the greatest voices today in rock music, got the night started with “Station Approach”, which is the opening track from their forthcoming (in the US) new album Leaders Of The Free World. Filled with multi-layered harmonies and huge swooping melodic lines, this is Elbow at what they do best.
The band played several more cuts off their latest record, including “Forget Myself” and “Leaders Of The Free World”, showing a slightly harder side to the group than we have been accustomed to. As a fan since their debut Asleep In The Back, I was just as anxious to hear their older material as I was to check out the new tunes. Garvey, who injured his ankle, occasionally hobbled around the stage during a few songs, including an outstanding rendition of “Fallen Angel”.
The set was not without a few glitches, including guitarist Mark Potter’s amp biting the dust. This couldn’t have happened at a worse time during their set, as the amp crapped out during what I consider their finest song, “Newborn”. After two failed attempts to complete the song, the band had to give up on the tune, resorting to an early conclusion to the pre-encore portion of their set.
When the group returned for their encore, the amp problems continued, causing yet another delay in their set. Garvey took it upon himself to have some fun with the crowd while we waited for the technical problems to get sorted out, allowing the fans to engage in an impromptu Q&A session with the band. With Potter shifting to acoustic guitar, Elbow got back to the show with a stunning performance of “Scattered Black And Whites”, with Craig Potter’s piano noodling delicately surrounding intricate guitars and Garvey’s soaring vocals. The set ended with an interesting choice of songs, “Switching Off” from their album Cast Of Thousands.
Elbow continues to be one of those bands that remain in the background of popular music in the US, which is an absolute shame. While groups such as Coldplay have been embraced by the masses, Elbow has quietly continued to make some of the greatest melodic music around. Hopefully 2006 will be the year they will finally crack the States. If they continue putting on impressive shows like last night at the Hiro Lounge, great things should be in store for this brilliant group.
Hey Garvey, take care of that ankle!