sat 07/12/2019

Elbow, Roundhouse | reviews, news & interviews

Elbow, Roundhouse

Elbow, Roundhouse

Guy Garvey's alt-rockers give the iTunes Festival a likeable but rather studio-neat set

Guy Garvey, "wayward estate agent"iTunes Festival, London 2014

Punctually, following a tension-building countdown, Elbow entered the blue-lit stage at London’s legendary Roundhouse, beers in hand, and gestured the 1500-strong audience into a mass toast. With his slight stoop, soft Manchester accent and wayward estate-agent appearance Guy Garvey’s frontman persona takes more from familiar folk Daddies like Loudon Wainwright III than from the styled superstars also headlining at the iTunes Festival.

And yet, opening with "Charge" from the new album The Take Off and Landing of Everything, their sound was a mighty urban wash of deep, bassy organ and slick drums. Garvey’s vocals felt fresh and lightly laced with all the passive aggression his lyrics suggest. Swiftly following was a faithful and powerful rendition of "Bones of You" and any hints of awkward showmanship were concealed by fast-paced strobes and the dramatic image of an eight-piece ensemble shaking glinting chrome percussion in absolute synchronicity.

The crowd now won over, they segued into a somewhat incongruous arrangement of "Summertime" for horns and strings, and something seemed to slip. Subsequent material from the new album felt already tired, based forever on the same recycled formula juxtaposing rock riffs with the lilting rhythms of Elbow’s friendly folk-pop signature. These were studio arrangements, played with sterile precision, meaning that the possibility for a singalong or an orchestrated mass wave prevailed over the joyous chemistry of spontaneous live performance.

Mark PotterEven on "Mirrorball" when two giant disco balls descended - sending bright white rays across delighted faces and the building's splendid girders and brickwork - they were static not turning, leaving no chance for an uncontrolled aesthetic to loosen the belts of their over-rehearsed tour material. Strangely relevant, then, that Garvey chose to ruminate on the history of the Roundhouse, noting its past as a turntable for steam trains, but never mentioning the musical legacy of the building. Echoes of some of the greatest punk and rock live performers remain somewhere, rattling in the walls behind the iTunes placards. Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and The Clash (to mention but a few) all wailed into the same auditorium and their influence can surely be heard, however superficially, in Elbow’s music too.

Part way through the set Garvey initiated some call-and-response from the audience that, in this lone moment of a capella vocalising, laid bare the richness and musicality of his voice on an improvised story of locomotives and layabouts. “Hang on, this is really good. Anyone recording this?” he interrupted his own stream of consciousness, and then led the mass choir into a less-than-subliminal, repetitious jingle, advertising support act Nick Mulvey's recent Mercury Music nomination. 

Though clearly intended just as a jovial and team-spirited moment for audience participation, it felt instead more significant within the context. At a time when iTunes have succumbed to delivering the album of an internationally renowned group into people's devices without their permission, Garvey's mass chorus of "Nick Mulvey should win the Mercury Music Prize" seemed to shed more glaring spotlight on that cynical mantra at the heart of the commercial industry; that musical taste should be indoctrinated rather than inspired.

But with such an enthusiastic audience (who immediately recognised the melody for "Grounds for Divorce" despite its Mercury Music prize lyrical disguise) to please them seems only natural. It's just that... perhaps they would actually feel more involved if the performance were to veer drastically from the version on the album, so that they stopped waving their arms for a moment to capture a glimpse of the beautiful transience of creative inspiration.

Perhaps the audience would actually feel more involved if the performance were to veer drastically from the version on the album

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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