In recent years Elbow have had to learn to think big, so big that a weeknight gig at Wembley Arena is about as low-key as it gets. The band are relaxed on this second date of their one week arena tour seamlessly blending the immense and epic with the intimate and informal.
Guy Garvey pounds along to rousing opener ‘High Ideals’ on an upright piano that looks like it’s been brought in from a Northern pub. He hails “Wembley” before charging down the walkway to greet fans thronging the front row, then switches to the more affectionate “Wembles”, addressing the masses like a drinking buddy for the rest of the night. ‘Grace Under Fire’ is a huge karaoke sing along with the chorus lyrics displayed on the big screen. Drummer Richard Jupp rounds it off with a rock n roll flourish and is caught looking sheepish on camera.
Crowd participation is a regular feature of Elbow’s performances. At festivals Garvey initiated Mexican waves and sing-alongs like a pensive wizard testing the extent of his powers. At Wembley he confidently conducts the amassed choir of fans in a variety of renditions of the ‘whoa…’ refrain from ‘Grounds for Divorce.’
These are the band’s final shows before they take a one year hiatus. They claim to have six songs for the next album and one is performed tonight. ‘Charge’ is a built around a moody organ riff and angsty lyrics; “Glory be these fuckers are ignoring me” Garvey proclaims in the song’s slow climax. It has all the hallmarks of an Elbow song and is performed assuredly as though it were already a classic.
In a more intimate moment the band assemble round a couple of keyboards for ‘The Night Will Always Win’, after which Garvey remains, repeating the opening line of ‘Weather To Fly’, encouraging individual fans and the audience as a whole to sing it back.
As the main set draws to a close Garvey thanks everyone for their warmth unaware that many upstairs are shivering beneath the air-con on a cold November night. The temperature rises as they return, performing ‘Starlings’ and ‘One Day Like This’. As the band put their instruments down, the chorus “throw those curtains wide / one day like this a year’d see me right!”reverberates around the arena making you feel that if there had been a Mercury Music Prize for the decade The Seldom Seen Kid would have won it; the band celebrating with a pint and a sing-song down the local pub.
Elbow leave the venue and will soon go their separate ways. Garvey, now used to thinking big, is off to New York to write for a musical adaptation of King Kong. When they return, ‘Wembles’ and other arenas full of fans will be ready to welcome them back with open arms.