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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Elbow, the real absolute majority

Elbow (+ Howling Bells). Sala Apolo, Barcelona, November 20th 

Guy Garvey at Apolo, BCN
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
Dear Elbow, thanks for an amazing night. And for making us forget, at least for two hours, the depressing Parlamentary elections we were celebrating Sunday. For us, the privileged audience of the Sala Apolo, there was no Mariano Rajoy, Rubalcaba, the unfair electoral system, economic crisis, etc. Just you and your wonderful music. Thanks.

The start of the night was already promising, as Howling Bells was a very interesting support act, with a very recommendable homonym debut album and a praised live presence. Unfortunately, their gig was too short to allow them prove their talents. The voice and presence of Juanita Stein was remarkable, and some guitar-driven passages were stimulating, but we missed some recognisable songs and a longer setlist. I want a second chance to judge them properly.

Howling Bells, Elbow's support act
Photo: Bloodbuzzed
But there wasn't time for complaints. After a pretty spectacular work from the technicians preparing the stage, Elbow showed up and, among a venue full of devoted fans (sadly a majority of foreigners) they started with "The Birds". An instant communion begun, with Guy Garvey as the indisputable high priest. What an extraordinary master of ceremonies. Impeccable singing, talkative, happy and close. Haven't seen many frontmen with that dominion of the stage, without the need of dancing or behaving in a physical way.

The gig was focused on material from "Build a Rocket Boys!" and "The Seldom Seen Kid" with some few exceptions, and had three-four different parts. On the first section, they connected with the public using "heavy fire". The enormous "The Bones of You" and "Grounds for Divorce" (with additional percussion from our man Guy), the beautifully romantic (great lighting for the song) "Mirrorball", the restrained epic of "Neat Little Rows". Who care about elections when you have such a singer/lyricist joined by a bunch of gifted musicians?

Cheers to 20 years of greatness! Photo: Bloodbuzzed
For the second segment of the concert, Elbow decided to settle down. In my opinion, they went a bit too far away with that aim. Too many consecutive  slow songs would ruin any kind of indie-pop/rock gig... but not an Elbow one. "The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver", "The Night Will Always Win", "The River" (dedicated to the Llobregat river thanks to the translation of the public), the rescue of "Puncture Repair". Individually, they are delicate, intimate (some of them were played by just Guy and keyboardist Craig Potter) gems of indie pop, and the proof Elbow have become so confident of their attraction and power, but played together they were a considerable risk for the audience.

Thanking audience. Photo: Bloodbuzzed
It was obvious the gig needed a change of rhythm, but Elbow decided to do it in its own way. "Dear Friends" sounded amazing and compelling, and then the world stopped with "Lippy Kids". To me one of the peaks of their incredible career, to see/hear a whole audience captivated and giving all they have in their throats and lungs to join Garvey whistling or singing the line "Build a Rocket Boys!" was magic. And from there on, nothing more than greatness. There was time for celebrating Elbow's 20th anniversary as a band, with the audience congratulating them with a deserved "Happy Birthday" that the group thanked with the performance of "Weather to Fly" and to close the concert, before the encore, on a very high note with the spectacular "Open Arms", again with Guy fully involving the audience.

The encore became a section of the gig on its own. It started with "Starlings", with the band armed with trumpets for the fanfare part. I don't really like the song on the record, but I admit I was overblown with its performance live. But the best was yet to come, with a fantastic rendition of "Station Approach" a personal favourite that I wasn't expecting to hear, followed by their biggest single, and perfect closer, "One Day Like This". An outstanding gig from an outstanding band. Rajoy who?

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