There are a few advantages to living on this side of the Atlantic. For music fans, that includes the ability to see bands play much smaller rooms compared to the shows they’re playing back home. Elbow’s an interesting example of this, playing venues like the 20,000-person O2 Arena in their home country of England and then, a month later, playing considerably smaller rooms for North American audiences.
Very few European bands seem able to make the leap between European and American stadiums (Muse and Coldplay spring to mind,) but there’s an advantage to the size gap: we’re treated to pretty spectacular shows from bands that are used to filling huge venues. And that’s where Elbow shine.
They’ve had a long history, playing music together since 1990 and led by vocalist Guy Garvey, who commands his audience like a conductor leads an orchestra. The core five-piece (joined on stage by two violinists,) stopped by Toronto to promote 2014’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything – taking to the stage after an opening set from the hilariously melancholic and talented singer John Grant.
It’s been some time since Elbow were last here, then playing the Sound Academy in support of 2011’s Build a Rocket Boys!, the follow-up to the 2008 Mercury Prize winning The Seldom Seen Kid. The 2008 record was their fourth and earned them a newfound following in their homeland, as well as a handful of hardware for the effort.
American audiences have largely slept on the band, however – most people only aware of the band because they’re either British or know someone that is. This is a bit surprising, given the success of contemporaries like The National. I’d go so far as to say that while The National are better on record, Elbow far surpass them in their live capabilities.
Much of this owes to Garvey’s well-delivered baritone: something National vocalist Matt Berninger typically struggles with in concert. On showings such as “Real Life (Angel)” and the slow ballad of “The Night Will Always Win,” Garvey was in perfect control – emotional showings that sent chills through the crowd.
Rounded out by guitarist Mark Potter, bassist Pete Turner, keyboardist Craig Potter, and drummer Richard Jupp, the band proved how far they’ve come over the years. On “Scattered Black and Whites,” from Elbow’s 2001 debut Asleep in the Back, their growth in their instrumentation and vocal capacities was spotlighted – the older offering faring well, but their new material sounding much more complex in comparison.
“The Birds,” the leadoff track to Build a Rocket Boys! was one built for stadiums, sounding huge and, frankly, a joy to see them pull off. The crowd was also well into it, joining Garvey and company for the band’s rockiest of numbers: “Grounds for Divorce.” It’s quite something to witness a crowd respond like that, and I can only imagine how much more overwhelming it would be to see the same kind of response in a much larger venue.
Ending with the triumphant “One Day Like This,” you kind of have to think that eventually the rest of North America will catch up to the greatness that is Elbow in concert. For now though, enjoy the intimacy of seeing them at a place like The Danforth Music Hall. It’s selfish to say, but as much as Elbow deserve all the success they get – it’s pretty wonderful to see a band play so well, so close.