Standing here in a steaming, sold out Tivoli, it’s hard not to think of Elbow as the best band in British music. There are those whose work is more innovative, sure, and many others who might be younger and more exciting. But while everybody’s been arguing over Muse and trying to buy tickets to Radiohead, Elbow have quietly snuck away with the crown, or at least had a knife fight over it with the guys from Spiritualized. Elbow’s albums are good enough, but their abilities live are something else entirely.
Then again, perhaps this overly civilised crowd are rubbing me up the right way. Everybody I bump into and squeeze past has a smile on his or her face. Indeed, the middle-aged guy standing in front of me is so intent on apologising for even the slightest violation of personal space that it begins to get annoying. Just watch the band, pal.
This is a recommendation not made lightly. Elbow are just spectacular tonight. Singer Guy Garvey in particular is perhaps the ultimate showman. Humble, gracious, and possessed of a dry comic timing that often has the crowd in fits of laughter, he’s the perfect host. There’s banter between every song, yet over a period of almost two hours it never gets tiring. Of course, with every yang there’s a yin, and the downside of Garvey’s waggishness is that a whole lot of dickheads in the room start to think they’re funny also. Still, Garvey confirms his worth by simply fielding the obtuse shouts and groans with more good humour.
In fact, the banter is of such brilliance that I almost neglect to make any notes about the actual songs. Thankfully, they’re delivered with such intent that it would be impossible to ever forget the details. Stretching into the set with ‘The Birds’ from their recent Build a Rocket Boys!
LP, there’s an overwhelming sense of tension and excitement that only breaks once the band shift the song into its stirring second movement – as Craig Potter’s keyboards and Richard Jupp’s snares start to take over everyone seems to lose their minds. It’s a remarkable outpouring of emotion that runs right into ‘The Bones of You’ and ‘Mirrorball’, both off The Seldom Seen Kid
Indeed, it’s the cuts from 2008’s Mercury Prize winner that seem to dominate the first part of the concert, coming to a climax when a Garvey-led singing lesson morphs into the country-inflected ‘Grounds For Divorce’. It’s a huge moment – perhaps the highlight of the night. Elsewhere, the band carve away the best cuts from Build a Rocket Boys!
, with ‘Lippy Kids’ descending into a beguiling whistled call and response between Garvey and audience, and ‘Open Arms’ bringing the curtain down on the main part of the set list in style.
The encore of course finishes the night with the magnificent ‘Day Like This’. It’s a predictable move, but then a metaphor for the entire Elbow experience: this is a band that, on the face of it, does nothing extraordinarily different. But what Elbow do achieve with their skill and musicianship far exceeds most of their contemporaries. Best band in Britain in 2012? Maybe keep your money on Elbow.