Thursday, October 09, 2008

Cornish Joint

“Cheer me up!” cries a wag in the crowd after one of Elbow’s really morose tunes. “Cheer you up? You’re in the wrong place. You need Rod, Jane & Freddie. Fuck… who remembers Rod, Jane & Freddie? You need primary colours, mate. This is a song about being scared your lover’s going to die from drug abuse,” deadpans Guy Garvey, and the band launch into “Powder Blue” from their debut album.

Garvey had never been to Cornwall before. The rest of the band had, he informed us. “Marc’s been arrested here. I’d best not go into it…” Cornwall, Truro in particular, is grateful for the visit. Staff from the Hall For Cornwall, last night’s venue, are proactively seeking out gig goers in the square and even the pubs outside the venue in the hours before the gig, eagerly exchanging tickets for wristbands so that people can get into the gig smoothly later on. There’s something charming, quaint even, about how well organised it is. The price of a balti up the road wasn’t quaint, though.

I’ve not seen Elbow before; they played Northampton in 2001 around Asleep In The Back, but their visit coincided with my leaving, and curiosity hadn’t been peaked enough then to make me see them. The intervening seven years have never presented a convenient opportunity. It’s a 90-minute drive from Exeter to Truro, so last night was hardly convenient either, but sometimes you just have to go.

The set was Seldom Seen Kid and Leaders Of The Free World heavy; I don’t recall anything from Cast Of Thousands. The aforementioned “Powder Blue”, plus “Newborn” (dedicated to the new daughter of an audience member, opening lyric altered to “I’ll be the duck in your bathtub”), and, to close the encore, “Scattered Black & Whites” from Asleep… all got an airing.

“Starlings” opened, and, I must confess, left me a little cold; the payoff seems small for the build-up, and the trumpets, while invigorating, seem to me to be little more than an experiment in dynamics. Which some might think was right up my street, but… no. “The Bones Of You” followed though, and won me over comprehensively. By the time “Station Approach” was wheeled out before “Scattered Black & Whites”, I was suckered.

If last night showed me anything, apart from how good Elbow are as a live band, and how charming, natural, and spontaneous Guy Garvey is as a host, it’s how orthodox Elbow have become over the course of their four albums; the first album is run through with jazzy rhythms, droning textures, and overpowering organs that owed a debt to Talk Talk, but by “One Day Like This” we’re in pretty conventional anthemic ‘rock’ territory, albeit executed with a degree of finesse, emotion, control, and character that leaves anyone else trying the same thing flailing around in primordial mud. I don’t mind this shift, even if it seems as though the band has evolved backwards perhaps, in some ways; but there’s something in the spooked repetition of “Any Day Now”, in the a little less predictable jazzy piano lines and ambient motion of “Scattered Black & Whites”, some more fragile and rarefied emotion, that’s missing from newer material. There is also, of course, masses of emotional tone and communicative energy in newer material that wasn’t even hinted at before. So it’s no loss; it’s just different.

In other news; initial interest in the Oasis album has died a quick and ignorable death.


Raw Patrick said...

"You need Rod, Jane & Freddie. Fuck… who remembers Rod, Jane & Freddie?"

Garvey gettin' ready make a move on the clip show talking head market.

Jiggy said...

I'm reading many reviews of the new Oasis album that are raving about its production. Not sure where they are coming from, as it's compressed to the max and LOUD for almost its entire running time, even the ballads.

It's a pity because there are some great songs on there, but I can't get past the fact that the production sucks.

Ian said...

I was just thinking that about Asleep at the Back the other day, Nick. Glad to hear someone else articulate it. I sometimes wonder how incredible an album Elbow could make if they could synthesize the best parts of their early and mature approaches, but I'm not sure that's actually achievable.

Wayne said...

I am glad you took the 90-minute drive there Nick. It's interesting to note that you didn't comment on how much of a chore that was :o)

I went to see Elbow in Wolverhampton the other night. It was probably the twelth time I've seen them over the years, and it has to be said that the average age of the audience was approaching about 45-years-old plus. I think it proves just how much more press Elbow have been getting everywhere since their Mercury prize win that's doing this now for them. Fans like this will stick with them for very many years and more-or-less assures them (and us) of an exciting future for Elbow.

One final comment is something I overheard a 50-something women saying as we left to her husband and couple they were with; "I have to say that Guys voice is like velvet over gravel". Yup. That's about it.