The modern gig-going experience: giant German wurst being barbecued outside (irresistible); €6 beer on tap inside (c’mon, I was thirsty!); and the smell of popcorn (in a rock venue, just peculiar.) And a polite usher to bring the disorientated punter to their seat.
All very nice – but it’s hardly rock ‘n’ roll is it?
Comfort and convenience is fine, but you’re not out for a merely ‘ pleasant’ evening. This is an Elbow show – it’s about big music that uplifts, songs that make your ticker feel like it’s going ninety.
As people filed into the cavernous 02, Villagers discreetly began their support slot with the magnificent Meaning Of The Ritual. It’s a song that a less confident band might place in the middle of their set, when they have your ears. But Conor O’Brien is an assured frontman, as comfortable in this arena as he is in smaller venues. Villagers aired two new songs ( The Bell and Memoir) and six songs from their Mercury-nominated debut. Becoming A Jackal and Home were fluid and magically played. A great set.
Two Dublin blokes sat in the seats beside me, drinks placed in the convenient cup-holders in front of them. ‘I got us doubles’ the lad beside me tells his friend as the Elbow stage is prepared. The band members appear on a screen in separate, ornate picture frames. Every few seconds they move slightly. ‘Jesus, it’s like something out of Harry Potter,’ says my new neighbour. I laugh. ‘I’ll tell you my favourite bit out of that film,’ he says, nudging my arm, ‘The people moving on the newspapers. Imagine seeing that on hash – maybe I have already!’
Wizards aside, however, the guy is also a massive Elbow fan, reeling out the tunes he hopes they play, singing snippets from the new album Build A Rocket Boys. As the lights in the 02 dim, he says something that speaks volumes about the effect of their music. He throws his arm across his friend’s shoulder and declares ‘I fucking love you man, no matter what.’
Now, we’re at an Elbow show.
Launching into The Birds, it’s immediately clear that the band have made a smooth transition to playing venues this massive. They sashay seamlessly into The Bones Of You, a band taking their time, safe in the knowledge that they’ve a reserve of magic to draw from. Garvey is amiable and chatty throughout; sometimes you feel like you’re in his sitting room. Especially when, halfway through the set, he opens the piano to reveal a drinks cabinet from which he fixes his band (mates) a cocktail.
Lippy Kids is a highlight from the first half of the set. Sublime, slow-burning, magic – Elbow, really. Neat Little Rows was ridiculously brilliant, the point where the rocket hit lift off. The band were determined to reach every punter in the room and, at one point, even shone a spotlight at the back row. Garvey told them to stand up and then asked everyone else to give them a standing ovation.
The quintet were backed up by strings but on some numbers showed how slick they are as a five piece. Grounds For Divorce shook the rafters, thanks to the thunderous bass and drums of Pete Turner and Richard Jupp. Garvey led the band out along the gangway , to what he called the ‘B’ Stage, in the middle of the room. Weather To Fly soared here, as the singer asked ‘Are we having the time of our lives?’
Elbow encored with Starlings and, for the eager fans in the balcony, there was no more sitting down. They followed with a kicking Station Approach but there was only one song that could end the show. Strings at the ready, goose bumps everywhere, Elbow launched into One Day Like This. The exhortation to ‘throw those curtains wide’ was deafening; Garvey was no longer the front man.
Your man beside me had his arm around his friend. He was probably telling him he loved him again; thousands of people in the room were doing the same. Whatever brought them into this room was met with the promise that ‘one day like this a year will see me right.’
Shaking off a heavy one? Well, my friends....
GIVE IT SOME FUCKIN’ ELBOW!