It’s been the hottest day of the year and Elbow are back on a big outdoor stage in Bristol.
Following their headline slot on The Downs a couple of years ago they are the big draw for Saturday night at the Bristol Sounds 2019 series. So throw those curtains wide and here we go.
They’ve been doing this for edging on thirty years now, and frontman Guy Garvey has got a PhD in easy, boozy, northern charm that has the audience on his side from his opening “Good evening Bristol!”. He’s a bear-like everyman whose role as deliverer of between-song stand-up and sing-along orchestrator sit in stark contrast to the introspective, kitchen sink musings on the affairs of the middle-class heart that populate his song lyrics. He reaches towards his audience, left arm raised like a preacher, welcoming all comers into his world.
Musically they still sit on a continuum of melodic, lightly orchestrated English pop/rock that starts sometime around the second side of Abbey Road, meanders through the lighter end of 70s prog, and takes in the more cerebral end of 80s chamber pop from the likes of Talk Talk. Unlike some of their contemporaries, they have never taken a Kid A type left turn. Tonight’s selection of melodious, minor key, sometimes quite fragile, rock music is not a million miles from where they came in. Knotty time signature changes and shifting textures negotiated with consummate ease.
Tonight’s set is drawn from across their now lengthy back catalogue. There is one newbie and the most recent, and strikingly introspective, album Little Fictions is given a particular airing with Magnificient (She Says) being an early set highlight. It is when they reach back into their career highlights from Seldom Seen Kid and Build a Rocket Boys that their writing is at its most zippy and most memorable. Mirrorball has a real grandeur and Lippy Kid has a beautiful light refrain. They have this sun-baked crowd in the palm of their hands.
We’re on the homeward run now so hands are raised and One Day Like This echoes around Bristol Harbourside. It would be easy to be sniffy about its wedding reception, 40th birthday barbecue ubiquity, but most bands would give the firstborn of their bass player to have a song like this so nailed-on to elicit this response. We all sing along and are taken back to Danny Boyle’s London Olympics opening ceremony. Not so long ago but a simpler and kinder time that feels like a world away now.
Grounds for Divorce brings us to a close, its simple hypnotic riff perfect to send us off into the night with a spring in our steps. Smiles all round, love had been spread, a little more hope in our hearts. Job done for the likeable Mancunians, till we meet again on some arena stage in the summertime.
All photos by Phil Watson Photography
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