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Elbow: The O2 Arena, London – Live Review


Elbow
The O2 Arena, London
9th May 2024

Elbow’s return to The O2 Arena is an all-out singalong celebration, with moments of melancholy, open-hearted intimacy, and more than one song “about devastating romantic regrets”.

Elbow shows are all about singing and clapping along to soaring (sometimes melancholy, sometimes joyous, always moving) songs and appreciating Guy Garvey’s (sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes earnest, always entertaining) MC patter. There’s often a mirrorball. The finale’s usually a life-affirming One Day Like This. But, most of all, Elbow shows are about communion.

On their last UK tour (one of the first after the world shut down for a bit), the band, their singer, and their songs gently guided us back from months of isolation. Playing smaller venues and debuting tracks from the wistful Flying Dream 1, they created a safe space for reconnection and shared emotional outpouring. Joy, tears, elation.

Now they’re back in arenas, armed with their most swaggering LP in years, in a world that feels slightly less dark (at least when compared with those confusing post-pandemic days of September 2021). Even the sun’s come out. So tonight at The O2 Arena is, intentionally, more of an all-out celebration (with moments of intimacy and more than one song “about devastating romantic regrets”).

Elbow: The O2 Arena, London – Live Review

The new tracks more than rise to the occasion. ’70s lounge lizard crooner Things I’ve Been Telling Myself For Years opens the show (as it does Audio Vertigo) with confidence and poise, complete with Mark Potter’s sleazy guitar solo and lush harmonies from the six women who complement the band on vocals, strings, and horns. They shine again on the playful Lovers’ Leap; its skittish horn line perfectly complements Pete Turner’s funk bass groove and Garvey’s tongue-in-cheek tale of starcrossed young lovers that plays out against the backdrop of Elbow’s name in lights, à la Elvis’ 1968 comeback special.

Later, The Picture bounds, throbs, and pulses jubilantly, contrasting lyrics that document the end of a relationship when its last remnant, an old photo of the couple somewhere on the internet, is “lost to the tides of the binary ocean”. Balu, turbocharged by Craig Potter’s glistening ’80s synths, Alex Reeves’ polyrhythmic drumming, and totally bombastic brass, is Elbow at their most effusive, while the immediate Good Blood Mexico City is Elbow at their most urgent. “When the sun goes down, the night explodes in their eyes/ This is the surge of the good blood rising,” Garvey belts over a monster guitar riff and positively sunny backing vocals.

Only a rowdy Grounds For Divorce comes close in terms of urgency, but the live staple from The Seldom Seen Kid is obviously greeted with even more volume, partly instigated by the singer. Not for the first (or last) time, he leads the arena through a call and response that continues into the song and only adds to its impact. My Sad Captains is another. Introduced with an especially eloquent description of reconnecting with dead friends through dreams, its audience-chanted refrain of “Oh my soul” is even more unifying and inclusive than any of the big gestures made from the stage. There may have been tears, again.

Elbow: The O2 Arena, London – Live Review

A majestic Lippy Kids repeats the experience (with fewer damp eyes) as some 15,000 voices join in on the “build a rocket boys!” line — and some even try to join in on the whistling bit at the end. If this sounds like Garvey’s leaving the heavy lifting to the audience, he’s definitely not. Apart from chatting about the origins of songs, taking the piss out of his age and move to London, and acting as a cheerleader and conductor (“I’m drunk with power,” he laughs during an extended audience participation session), he absolutely gives his all while singing.

In fact, the entire extended band are in fine form. Showing total restraint on Puncture Repair, they stomp across the second half of Station Approach, waltz through Kindling, get dirty and nasty on the gritty and glitchy Dexter & Sinister, add even more polish to the elegant Mirrorball, and gently gently push The Birds further (and, yes, higher) than ever before: Garvey especially sounds phenomenal during the final movement.

“Please sing along,” he asks later, by way of introducing Magnificent (She Says), before adding: “Always sing along.” Sound advice for an Elbow gig — and life.

You can find Elbow on their website as well as Facebook, Instagram, and X.

~

Words by Nils van der Linden. You can visit his author profile for Louder Than War here. He tweets as @nilsvdlinden and his website is here.

Photos by Simon Reed. His website Musical Pictures is here and you can visit his author profile for Louder Than War here. He tweets as @musicalpix.

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