This is a public service announcement for dumb asses out there like me. I had no idea who the band Elbow was until last night when I was whisked away to a concert. I have seen the light.
Elbow is an extraordinary band. At the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles last night on their second to last U.S. tour date, they created an atmosphere that felt far more like a 200 seat intimate club than a nearly 6000 seat stadium. Front man Guy Garvey immediately made everyone feel at home with the casually posed “Everybody doin’ okay?” as he walked on the stage with beer in hand (possibly the Elbow Band brew - yes they even make their own beer!). From that moment, we were sitting at their feet like kindergartners at story time.
Stories they deliver: the deep, heartwarming, and sometimes heart-wrenching kind. I don’t remember ever crying at a concert. "The Night Will Always Win" got me. The haunting ballad helps us weep for those we have lost forever. Garvey said it was about someone who died, but images of those who had died swirled in with those I know I simply will never see again: “I miss your stupid face. I miss your bad advice.”
My favorite thing about this band is that they take full responsibility for what they put out there, and end up doing a lot of good old fashioned inspiring by default. The chorus anthem that earned the album title Build a Rocket Boys is from the song “Lippy Boys” which was born when Garvey saw a group of kids up to no good, wondering what it would be like if they were living their potential. What a world it would be.
This is a band entrenched in an unfaltering desire for community, whether joined by place, commonality, love, or music. The concert experience definitely gives you an immediate sense of oneness, as even the worst of singers in the audiences join in the sing-alongs. They aren’t creepy “Cumbaya” moments, more like transcendental, cathedral of music moments. In our case, last night, many of us were spurred on by competitive spirit as Garvey warned us that the New York audiences were a lot louder, better, and at one point admonished: “They had some harmonies goin’ too. I’m just sayin’ ”
Garvey is the perfect blend of Ricky Gervais, Peter Gabriel, and Sting. There’s a lot of sexy goin’ on with Elbow. Last night, keyboardist Craig got the spotlight after Guy said Craig’s name and a loan woman’s cry screamed “Sexy!” We were then told that every time Craig’s name was uttered, we were to reply with “Sexy!” Not a hard task.
How can you not love a band whose concerts and website urge you to participate, and even make music? On their homepage, click on a different letter of their five-letter name and you get a different note, as if you are playing a piano in the cozy Elbow living room.
I know all bands know they have to cater to their fans, but usually you get the feeling it’s a duty, or just part of an ego-boosting machine. Most often I get the feeling they are throwing the candy down from a fancy balcony. Elbow is the neighbor you love and trust with your dog and your heart, and every day is Halloween.