“Elbow fans show up, man.”
(Photo: Peter Hutchins)
Much like other British bands such as Manic Street Preachers or Spiritualized, Elbow has found a small footing with connected music fans but hasn’t broken through to American audiences at large. So the fact that the band didn’t just play the Roseland, but sold it out was a pleasant surprise. And after encountering such fans as a couple that flew from Salt Lake City to Portland to see the Clientele and Elbow, one has to wonder, where have all these acolytes been hiding?
To quote such a person in attendance, “Elbow fans show up, man.” They know every word, and they treat every last song like the belter it is. The minute the band took to the stage and Guy Garvey took to the mic, the crowd went wild. Garvey is by no means what you’d imagine for a front man: the 43-year-old Mancunian looks like “Great British Bakeoff” host Paul Hollywood, or roughly half the male cast of The Full Monty. Perhaps his Everyman demeanor is part of the secret to the band’s success: there’s nothing cool about Elbow, but they’re workmanlike and are wildly successful at making propulsive but inoffensive Rock Music. And that’s not meant as a backhanded compliment. On paper, there’s nothing inventive here, but using basic building blocks, they have created something special.
Over the course of roughly two hours, the band played something from almost each of their albums, skipping only 2003’s Cast of Thousands , with a special focus on the band’s newest, Little Fictions. Each song was lovingly rendered for the stage, never radically altered but polished and tightened until each one fit perfectly into the set list. As they began digging into the meat of the brooding Asleep in the Back with show opener “Any Day Now,” it was clear that the band would much rather trot out some of its oldest material than push the new album.
The most hair-raising moments came when Garvey dropped out of the mix to allow the audience to sing for him. There were many, many such moments. Partway through Seldom Seen Kid highlight “Mirrorball,” he thrust his hand and mic into the crowd, signaling for the crowd to come in with, “And we kissed like we invented it,” and as the band played its slow burner to the light of Roseland’s disco ball, it almost felt like the building could take off at any moment.
Even better, it felt like every other song got a moment like this. Though did we really need Garvey to coyly teach us the “woah-oh” part of “Grounds for Divorce” when every last person in the room was practically begging to join that chorus before they even bought the tickets to the show. Even if you detest audience participation, it was hard to not feel the sense of community and ceremony.
Naturally, the curtain calls ended with “Grounds for Divorce,” but what left the biggest impression came at the end of the main set with “One Day Like This,” the biggest of all the belters in Elbow’s catalog. While it’s just shy of seven minutes, the never-conservative Garvey turned several minutes over to the crowd for the song’s closing line: “Throw the curtains wide/ One day like this a year will see me right,” which in the Roseland became a long repeated chant – first with Garvey dropping out, then the whole band.
I’ve heard “One Day Like This” more times than I’m willing to admit, but at the Roseland, with 1000 people chanting in unison and Garvey beaming from the center of the stage, it was nearly impossible to not feel the band’s secret power. When you get to experience moments like that, it doesn’t really matter where all the fans have been hiding. All that really matters is the fact that Elbow fans really do show up, and it’s inspiring to see their devotion.