When a joyous Guy Garvey received the Mercury Prize a month ago he said something like “after 18 years…” implying the time his band spent together. I thought my English failed again, “did he say eight?” I went to Chiara, “no eighteen” she replied. “I can’t believe, that’s not possible”.
Wikipedia confirms Elbow, in their different cycles of rebirth, have been playing Manchester scene since the Stone Roses wanted to be adored, even if first LP and first Mercury nomination are dated 2001.
Perseverance pays back. 4 EPs lost in some small record shop; then four more LPs all excellent examples of the second wave of British pop; not a single top ten single. Music for the love of music.
Mercury Prize is regularly debated. The best record of the year is not chosen by general public but a selected jury formed by people in the music business, the mysterious figure of experts.
Panel changes every year and, if not from the shortlisted which usually span the entire range of British music, it is evident from the list of winners. Who chose Klaxons over Amy Winehouse can’t be the same than the one who preferred Elbow over Burial.
In its hall of fame there are great names as Primal Scream and PJ Harvey, key debuts as Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys but even promising artists that didn’t deliver as Ms Dynamite and M People and legends left out as Radiohead and Oasis.
2008 jury made the right choice. Elbow’s deserved the prize, for their work and for their endurance. Awarding The Seldom Seen Kid over Burial’s Untrue could be seen conservative, and a confirmation of the growing wave of Tories renaissance, but Elbow’s album is definitely the strongest of the British LPs, together with the other Mercury nominated, Do you Like Rock Music? by the British Sea Power. I should add that the best 2008’s music has been sailing the wind of change on the other bank of the Atlantic.
Indie philosophy is based on some dogma which you can’t betray if you don’t want to see your audience turning their back on you. Authenticity and credibility must belong to an independent band as much as showing off and stardom must be minimized.
Elbow embody all of this, genuinely. When Guy Garvey enters the stage to introduce the support, Jesca Hoop, as “one of my favourite American songwriters”, he knocks up a good score. He is applauded and perceived as a humble person who uses his celebrity to favour another artist. Authentic and credible.
About a hour later Gurvey is back on the stage supported by the rest of the band and a string quartet that takes also backing vocal duties. The back is effectively decorated with their “Rubik’s cube” like logo which is also on the cover of the winning album.
It is their first gig after the prize, probably the last tour in small venues. Wembley arena is already booked for 2009. Expectedly the setlist is centred on The Seldom Seen Kid; it’s its tour and more important it is their best release to date.
It is routine that a tour supports the latest album, what is rarer is that this is a desired thing. Anyone who attended recent U2, Red Hot or Primal Scream concerts knows what I mean. Standing there waiting for the best tunes to arrive. Hoping egos leave space to hits. Tonight’s high is that Elbow best songs are indeed in Elbow latest album. The packed venue is treated with the best and the best of the rest.
In a smooth rotation, ballads leave space to electric guitars, orchestral suites flirt with old melodies.
The acoustic tunes emphasize the excellent songwriting and Gurvey’s big voice but is when the volume raises, the guitars take the place of the violins, the drums stress the harmonies that Elbow give their best and let the magic happen.
Eighteen years playing for the pleasure of it bear fruits. The solidity of their sound is impressive. No space for solos, it is from the fusion of singularities that the gig takes off.
Elbow don’t play three minutes three chords. The songs are structured. Long instrumental suites take place, percussions and guitar overlaps, violins add melody and romance.
What in classic rock was the place and the space for solos, in contemporary rock is left to group interplay. From a sort of selfish wanking to a choral act of mutual love.
When during Ground for Divorce the guitar riffs enters, with the closest Jack White’s sound you can listen in UK, it is not the guitarist personality but the reciprocal understanding of the entire band, including Gurvey abusing a weird metal bar as a percussion, that their best song becomes a wall of sound able to silence the entire venue in adoration.
Older tunes mix up among the lines of a setlist that will clock two hour. There are some weaker points but never long enough to bring the excitement down. Then the highs are vertiginous, Mirrorball scatter its melody in millions of notes and a mistery song which I will never know the title seems to be penned by Roger Waters when totally obsessed by his father ghost.
Before the encore, the gig closes with One Day Like This. Keane could kill for “a song like this”. A tune so perfect to bring the entire venue to sing-along the chorus, everything is so flawless to be close to sugariness. OK, this is me that I am always after an imperfect balance between melody and transgression.
Elbow have indeed found the perfect balance between writing good music and achieving a deserved success.
Even with such a pleasant multi-course dinner, Elbow come back for a dessert that is so tasty noone has problem to enjoy to the end. Back from the debut, Newborn sees the band transforming in a brass ensemble, screaming trumpets interlude through the song drawing a loud and brass landscape. Some would write experimentalism a word so overused to become synonym of “I don’t have a clue why they put this noise here so they must have experimented“. Fact is I would define experimental some works by John Zorn or Einstürzende Neubauten while recently I found it paired to latest Oasis and Coldplay CDs! Scattered Black and Whites is simply the other perfect tune missing to close the perfect night…and not, not because of the title!
Without doubts amongst the best acts UK can offer today, ways beyond Coldplay, Oasis, Verve and Travis recent releases. If Brit-pop has a name today that name is the most sensuous word in the English language: Elbow. (cit. The Singing Detective)
Backlights are a pain “in the back” for concert photographers. A lit up logo “on the back” can instead be a great photographic opportunity.
Elbow’s cube was continuously lit by various lights coming from different angle.
The intensity was constantly changing, offering a different balance between the backlight and the band.
When this is the situation, the first thing to do is to avoid automatic light measurement unless you are perfectly aware of how your camera works.
A homogeneous light on the backstage misleads the exposure meter and quite easily will underexpose your subject unless the light techinician is so photographer friendly to dose exact the same amount of light on both.
It is not going to happen so don’t be that excited to read that finally you can shoot f5.6 1/125s because the best you will end up is a nice silouhette!
In this occurrence, work manually, spot measure the light on the band member you want to shoot and I ignore the luminosity of the design on the back.
It will come out most of the time OK, what is much more important in a photo is the subject. A nicely exposed back definitely add value to the image but if it comes with a poorly exposed artist it is quite improbable the result will be of any use.