For the next year it will be almost impossible to read or write anything about Elbow without the opening text starting along the lines of ‘Mercury music prize winners Elbow.....’. Even Guy Garvey, the bands lead singer cannot help but mention it on stage at Portsmouth Guildhall “We’ve had an exciting year.... We know that most of the tickets sold out before we won the Mercury prize, but it’s always nice to see new friends too,” he jokes. Watching the band perform tonight it seems that for once the Mercury Award doesn’t seem like a noose around the winners neck. This is a band who have been creatively surfing a wave for a very long time now. They are unusual recipients in so far as they were already far advanced on their musical journey, having on the fourth attempt delivered their best and most consistent work to date. The Mercury is renowned for being given to a debut album. The award for The Seldom Seen Kid has been seen by many as being well and truly deserved, not only for its life affirming songs, but for the bands unerring perseverance and dedication to producing quality music. It is that dedication that has paid the dividends and allows the band to expand and continue, with a body of work behind them that frees them from the mental shackles of worrying about how they produce a follow up.
It also says volumes that for a band that were once dropped by their record label that tonight they are playing Portsmouth Guildhall, the towns largest venue, a step up from the last time they were here at the smaller Pyramids centre. There is a feeling here tonight of celebration. As the band walk on stage the applause seems to go on for ever, before they have even played a note. Elbow have finally made it, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer and better band.
Guy Garvey is the most un rock n roll of front men with his un-tucked white shirt and lack of slenderness. He looks like he has just strolled out of the office and somehow found his way onto the stage of the Guildhall. However his voice, reminiscent of Peter Gabriel, gravel like and comfortingly warm is perfect, as is the rest of the sound that his band make.
The set is full of songs from the new album, from the opening tenderness of Starlings, where the band punch out a wake up call of singular trumpet blasts as bright white light obliterates the stage, to the string laden anthemic One Day Like This with its euphoric chorus of "Throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right." There is also a collective shudder of appreciation through the audience as Garvey takes a seat and a guitar to play Newborn from the bands first an album Asleep In The Back, a song full of musical diversions and complexity that builds to a crescendo before cutting out to a dark nothingness. It is near perfection and shows a band operating at the highest level.
Live at Portsmouth Guildhall Elbow’s music is powerful and full of emotion, yet despite the size of the venue the band retain a sense of intimacy. Any criticism that they are just too serious musically is deflated by Garvey’s in between song banter, which has developed since becoming a BBC 6 Music DJ ,where he asks if he can refer to the audience as Joe, which he does. But best of all he asks the crowd to abandon the normal clapping for an encore if they want the band back, and instead to sing I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside, which the crowd duly oblige him.
This gig is best summed up when Garvey asks the crowd “What day is it?”. The response from an audience member ? “Elbow Day.” At this rate we may yet go on to rename all of the days of the week in their honour.