Not many bands have as big an affinity with their hometown as Elbow do. They’ve written countless songs about Manchester, they own bars in the town, they’ve been involved in endless campaigns that have supported the city and its charitable causes, and almost everyone you mention them to has a story about that time they met Guy Garvey in a bar or a kebab shop. Me included. That kind of affinity guarantees packed shows, and all four of Elbow’s nights at the Apollo were complete sell-outs. It’s to their credit, in fact, that they stuck to a smaller venue such as the Apollo when they could quite easily have sold out the Arena. But as much as such an association guarantees bums on seats (or feet on sticky floors, as the case may be) it also brings a certain sense of expectation. A perfect show is almost demanded. And, on this first night of their four-night run, that expectation was etched across the faces of the audience and band members alike.
That might explain why the show seemed to take a little while to really get going. Opening with ‘Gentle Storm’, arguably the best song from their latest album “Little Fictions”, should have been the perfect way to start. It’s the most energetic number among the new songs, and displays the band in typical joyous fashion. For some reason, though, it felt a little flatter than the album version, a little rushed maybe. Not that most of the crowd will have noticed. Elbow were on stage and everyone was happy with the world. Following ‘Gentle Storm’ with ‘The Bones of You’ and ‘Fly Boy Blue / Lunette’ should also have made this an exemplary beginning, but there was still a sense that Elbow weren’t really hitting their highest heights.
It should be said, though, that your opinion at this point of the show could come down to which side of Elbow you prefer. If you think the band are at their best when producing sweeping anthems that makes crowds sway their arms from side to side, then you were probably in your element. If you like Elbow with a bit of bite – Elbow with energy – then you might have still been waiting for lift off. That lift off would really come with ‘The Birds’, about two thirds of the way into the show. Finally, Guy Garvey stepped away from the centre of the stage and stopped encouraging the audience to stick their hands in the air, and the performance went from good to top drawer. There was barely any let up after that, with rousing performances of ‘One Day Like This’, ‘Lippy Kids’, and ‘Grounds for Divorce’ among the other highlights.
None of that is to say that there weren’t great moments earlier in the show. ‘New York Morning’, ‘Mirrorball’, and ‘My Sad Captains’ were all quite beautiful. But on a whole, Elbow’s performance followed a similar trend to the one their career has taken in recent years. They have become a band that seem satisfied to focus on stadium rock style ballads in the main part, with less of a tendency to mix it up than they used to have. And that’s fine. They are one of the best bands in the world at creating this kind of music, and Guy Garvey is difficult to match as a lyricist. But maybe they have lost the element of surprise a little bit.
If this review sounds harsh, then I apologise. It isn’t meant to. And it’s not that Elbow were in any way bad at the Apollo. In fact, they were very good. It was just that, after waiting for years to finally catch this band that I hold in so high a regard, they maybe didn’t live up to the expectation that I, and everybody else, had felt at the beginning. Having said that, if it was judged only on the final third of the show, it would be up there with the best gigs I’ve been to in years. So maybe I should just shut up moaning.