Elbow – Genting Arena, Birmingham

Saturday 3rd March

There aren’t many acts I would brave an arena for, but Elbow are a special band. Special enough to get on trains on a day when all non essential travel was off, snow piled up along the lines and station staff advise you not to travel. “Is your journey essential?” they asked. Clearly they’ve no idea how much music, live music, the music of this band in particular means to me.

Bristol to Birmingham doesn’t usually involve going via Reading, but that was the only option. I’m not sure how long it all took, I was just grateful to be moving somewhere and to have a seat!

Each stage of the journey was accompanied by disbelief we were actually going to get there, the build up and tension such that I couldn’t allow myself to expect to arrive at the gig at all, let alone in time to see John Grant (special guest, not support act). So when we did get to the Genting Arena I was a bag of nerves. There had been ticket complications (both train and gig), 3 trains, trams and trudging through snow, ice and sludge, to be there. Walking into a vast arena hall to the strains of Pale Green Ghosts, I began to feel a little overwhelmed. It was obvious we would have to stand at the back, and that the crowd was thin enough to hang back a little, allowing me to see something at least. He was singing Glacier, a song written by a man suffering enormous pain and trauma to help himself and others heal.  It is a beautiful song, stunning, and in such a huge space, quite surreal. He then played the sublime Queen of Denmark and the joyous Disappointing. I was gutted to have missed the rest of his set, but knew I would get another chance tomorrow, and he is so fantastic that hearing him sing anything, anywhere, was worthwhile.

Ditto Elbow. Last year I saw them play the Plymouth Pavillions (strange place), in a forest and headline a festival. I’ve clocked up miles to see Elbow. I’d walk them if I had to, they move me so much. They opened with Starlings, one of my favourites and one I’ve been desperate to hear live. It didn’t disappoint, such romance and beauty. Oh to have a man  love you enough to write a song like that about you *swoon* Guy Garvey is cat nip for middle aged women, we can’t help ourselves. He’s romantic, gentle, funny, warm, down to earth and sings like an angel. The really wonderful thing about this Elbow gig was that during the romantic songs I was standing with a man who loves me enough to have organised and paid for this whole madcap adventure. Who knows how much this music means and does all he can to facilitate me being able to fully enjoy it. Who takes my hand and keeps me calm when I start to panic. Who makes me feel safe. Every other Elbow gig I’ve wept through Bones of You and Mirrorball as a singleton, daring to dream that one day I would love and be loved like that. This time I didn’t have to.

Leaders of the Free World sadly sounds more poignant now than ever,  biting lyrics and driving bass, with judicious keys and grinding guitars, “we’ve dropped the baton like the 60’s didn’t happen at all.” It’s another of the ones I really love and I’ve not heard it live before, performed with menace, heart, guts and teeth befitting a massive arena. The sound was superb, and the lighting/set design did an incredible job of extending the reach of the band right to the back of the hall.

I couldn’t stop the tears altogether, this was an Elbow gig, and it was me attending it. There is a line in Fly Boy Blue/Lunette that just breaks me every time. The slow winding tension, the building to the crescendo, the emotional payoff of the ending of the song is just perfection. With no time to catch breath they were straight into Tower Crane Driver and I was heaving proper big, uncontrollable sobs. I felt my legs begin to buckle and feared what was next played as I would have crumpled if it had have been a Switching Off or a Scattered Black & Whites. I got a break with some less emotional songs, and with Guy being his usual charming and funny self. He wanted to know how many of us had made it, 10,000 apparently, about 2/3 of the capacity. Given the conditions that’s pretty good going and I think he was genuinely chuffed so many of us had made it through the wilderness.

He introduced The Birds as possibly the bands favourite, despite its complexity. It is a dense song, like a lot of Elbow’s stuff, deceptively so. It was a grower for me, its tentacles wormed their way into my ears, brain and heart over time and then set up residence and wouldn’t bloody leave. Like all the best music, it just gets inside you somehow. In ways you cannot and don’t want to understand.  Little Fictions does the same. It’s a novella in a song. Its tense and dramatic and has rhythmic patterns that just shouldn’t work, yet builds and builds and builds like waves crashing against a frozen sea. The resolution isn’t complete, the emotional pull so great and the cost of the anger so huge that the waves cannot simply ripple back to gentility, something changes fundamentally. I wish I could adequately explain how I experience music, it feels as if every one of my synapses is on fire. Music pours in and out of me like molten life force; I lose all control and have to move my body in rhythm with the music. It’s an unstoppable energy. To have the space and freedom to really let go was almost too much. Feeling so much is exhilarating, exciting and exhausting in equal measure. It is the most incredible feeling on earth.

We were heading towards the end of the set and so the singalong hits came out, the wistful Lippy Kids and Magnificent with Grounds for Divorce as a closer. This felt a more emotionally satisfying way to move between main set and encore. And what an encore we got! Kindling, with John Grant coming back on to duet, worth all it took to get there on its own. The warmth and affection between them so obvious and wonderful to experience. Ending with One Day Like This was perfection. There is something so primeval about humans making noise together, choral singing is powerful stuff. So to take part in a 10,000 strong set of voices to a soaring song was, alway is, magical stuff. It was a  gloriously uplifting way to end the show.

Elbow are a special band to me, their music has calmed, soothed, uplifted, moved and saved me. Seeing them live will always be an emotional experience in so many ways. Big cuddles and a bucket load of love and gratitude to them always.




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