Elbow bring unapologetic optimism to Atlanta

Live review: Elbow at Centerstage Theater in Atlanta, 9/20/11

A band like Elbow only comes along once a decade, or so. This is a special thing, this band. Another one of those special things would be R.E.M. After hearing the news Wednesday that they were calling it quits, one cannot help but speculate that Michael Stipe was in that packed crowd at Centerstage the night before in Atlanta. Witnessing that special thing called Elbow. And he summized that yes, there is one greater than us. Why go on?

The irrepressible and eternally glass-is-half-full Guy Garvey brought his British quintet back to Atlanta last night. The fans were there. The love was there. It was a terrific evening of music. The unbelievable story here, is that Elbow is not yet a household name in America. Despite the sonic perfection that they have created on each of their five studio albums (and a hundredfold playing live), they haven’t cracked the U.S. yet with that one career-defining song. But the rest of the world is a bit more musically evolved. “We used to be cool,” said Garvey. Only a cool person would say such a thing. For their previous release, 2009’s masterpiece The Seldom Seen Kid, Elbow won the prestigious Mercury Prize. Nominated again this year for Build a Rocket Boys!, they just missed.

Garvey had a chat with the fans, asking for a regional or traditional song he could sing. Someone yelled out “Freebird!” People booed. One young lady got Guy’s attention and her recommendation was the “chop chant” from the Atlanta Braves. While chanting this, one must move the arm up and down, as if weilding a tomahawk. I’m sure the Cherokee and Creek were turning in their graves. Anyway, Guy ran with this, did a little call-and-response with the fans, and it morphed into the chant from “Grounds For Divorce.” It was such a perfect transition that either this girl was a plant in the audience or Guy Garvey is a musical genius. It is definitely the latter. This was one of the more upbeat rockers played Tuesday night, and at times the crowd’s voices overpowered Garvey’s.

To make a short list of highlights would be unfair to the band and the fan. Let’s just say there were no “low-lights.” Garvey’s magnificent voice paired with his wit and charisma made every song the best song. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Elbow’s inception, and the audience sang to them as they indulged in a round of shots. Over the course of those twenty years, they have amassed a bit of a cult following. Suffice it to say, everyone knows the songs. Between fans singing/yelling the lyrics, and screaming song requests, Garvey politely shushed them once or twice. “We’re taking no requests at this time, thank you.” he quietly stated. But these songs make you happy. And each band member plays at an advanced level, making the songs – many orchestral in nature – that much better.

Towards the end of the evening, a fan shouted, “Play something unapologetically optimistic!” Garvey responded, “That’s all we play! Everything we’ve ever done is unapologetically optimistic!” In fact, after returning for the encore, the band played “Starlings,” “Station Approach” and possibly the most beautiful and uplifting song in Elbow’s repertoire, “One Day Like This.” The song begins after and alcohol-induced fight the night before. It goes on to discuss growing old together. Garvey sings, “Cause holy cow I love your eyes / And only now I see the light / Yeah, lying with you half awake / Oh anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day.” With victory in his voice and the surge of violins, you are compelled to sing along, “So throw those curtains wide / One day like this a year would see me right.” I challenge you to find a mightier song.


Opener Glasser showed off her minimal set and Bjorkian ways. Her set was clearly a complement to that of the headliner’s, but a thankless job nonetheless (most openers are). Her voice, however, was rich and powerful, and when she let go, it soared. Garvey would later admit that having her on the tour makes them hip and cool.

Set List (thanks to Setlist.fm):

1.The Birds
2.The Bones of You
3.Mirrorball
4.Neat Little Rows
5.Grounds for Divorce
6.The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver
7.Great Expectations
8.The Night Will Always Win
9.Puncture Repair
10.The River
11.Lippy Kids
12.Weather to Fly
13.Open Arms

Encore:

1.Starlings
2.Station Approach
3.One Day Like This

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