Elbow really are a lovely band. Having played four dates in Manchester, the Bury five-piece opened the second leg of a short theatre tour by lining up on the stage of the Eventim Apollo and politely raising their plastic beer glasses to the crowd.
It’s been years since they’ve been seen in venues this intimate in the UK; for the last few years, Elbow have been an arena band. But after performing in smaller venues in the US and Canada last summer – which the band found much more relaxing – that they decided to do the same in the UK.
It’s hard to imagine Elbow ever feeling particularly stressed. The laid-back affability of their 40-year-old frontman Guy Garvey is mirrored by the rest of the band. They’ve been together since they were teenagers and have yet to see a single line-up change.
Elbow perform at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith (REX)
With no new album to promote (their sixth album came out almost a year ago) or huge crowd to win over, these smaller shows were aimed at long-time fans. The set list had been redesigned, with the anthemic crowd-pleaser One Day Like This moved to the middle from its usual closing position and rarely played tracks such as 2001’s Any Day Now brought back to life.
To describe their music as ‘soaring’ is something of a cliché, but that description is perfect for Elbow. That expansive sound acts like a bear hug, but one delivered by a burly northern bloke who’s also reciting poetry on a wide range of topics from death and lost friends to “really s-t airport pubs”.
They are certainly not a band that need a large stage. Backed only by a small orchestra, they let the music do the work while Garvey’s ambling performance involved singing with his arms raised and making self-deprecating quips between songs.
When they returned for the encore the frontman was once again holding a plastic glass aloft, this time filled with stout. “Don’t be afraid to do silly s-t, ” he told the crowd before launching into closer My Sad Captains, an ode to the drunk, immature fun of times past.