Elbow rocks Center Stage

On Sept. 20, British rock quartet Elbow filled Center Stage with a grand, intimate sound  in an unparalleled show of skill and competency.

Self-described as somewhere between Coldplay and Radiohead for the average listener, but “experimental prog rock without the solos” for those in the know, Elbow creates a sound that is rather their own walking the line between the grandeur of heartbreak and confusion of childhood. Playing as a group for more than 20 years, Elbow has created a cohesive sound, which keyboardist/producer Craig Potter credits to them “all work[ing] together.”

The set list was almost exclusively derived from their latest two efforts: this year’s Build a Rocket Boys! and 2008’s Mercury Prize (Britain’s Grammy equivalent) winning The Seldom Seen Kid.

In their native Britain and over much of Europe, Elbow has reached arena status playing huge shows for the masses – and success suits them well. They effectively manage to transfer this to a smaller venue, still achieving a “celebratory feel” that is “grand sounding” — goals stated by Potter. Though on a smaller stage the soaring vocals, roaring solos, and crazed fans ardently singing along transfer well, making it easy to imagine being in a vast arena — each person is captivated by a level of intimacy no matter how far from the stage one may be.

Elbow’s level of professionalism and experience shines, showing the little things really do matter. Having lights properly timed, the added touch of two violins to the group or actually having a disco ball for the song “Mirrorball” are all just small parts of a larger whole that make a concert not just run smoothly, but capture the crowd. But most important was the charisma of lead singer Guy Garvey, who, like the pied-piper, effortlessly leads his audience under the allure of his music.

When Garvey asked to learn a “traditional Georgia song” he was answered with hundreds of waving hands and the low tones of the our local “cricket” team’s tomahawk song. He then transforms this into the vocal riff for “Grounds for Divorce” – easily one of their best songs and the most memorable moment of the night.

Surprisingly helpful and interesting was Garvey’s introduction to each song. Often these are an annoying waste of time, but when filled with tales of lost childhood innocence, marriages on a bus unbeknownst to the bride, or friends departed the stories become the opposite. They also help to decipher the meanings behind Elbow’s sometimes obtuse lyrics of “simian strolls” and laying “my bones in neat little rows”.

Opening act Glasser provided a stark contrast to the production of Elbow — featuring only vocals and percussion with pre-recorded loops. An interesting act full of Björk-esque vocals and jungle beats, Glasser was the opposite of charisma, apparently lost in their own world of convoluted dancing.

Elbow’s strengths as great as they are, made their mistakes —though small — rather glaring and disarming. Garvey started the night with a “Good evening Atlantis” a faux pas that was repeated through the night. And though his vocals are amazing, Garvey’s enunciation (or lack of) often made already difficult lyrics impossible to understand.

However, in reality these mistakes make no difference in a show where a band holds themselves to such high standards. Elbow’s ability to convert their intimate studio recording into a grand, arena-styleshow is astounding.
Elbow is probably one of the best, most praised bands from the UK the average listener has not heard of. However, their concert at Center Stage proves why they are so popular at home and, with shows like this concert, their audience is sure to grow.

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