Elbow

This warm-up show it’s the first live show Elbow play in a long time and very likely it is going to be the last in such a small venue for even a longer time.

Warm-up gigs have become a sort of special intimate events for bands who got big enough to be on the verge of touring large arenas. Literally it is what it says, a general proof to test everything is set, up and running for the big tour. On a deeper level it is a way to keep the intimacy with the audience which is an essential element of indie music. From the hardcore fans perspective is that special moment that let them say to friends “I am not going to see them at the arena, I have seen them at the Junction’s warm-up”. Not casually these events are usually sold through the band websites giving access to the hardcore fans first. Hardcore fans are a comfortable audience when you are still not at your 100%. They rarely disagree on the quality of the show.

Elbow official tour will start in about a week and touches most of the United Kingdom arenas, including a two dates in front of the 40.000 people of the O2 arena inside the London Millennium Dome.

This event is also special because it is the first time the lucky audience can listen to some songs of the new album which has been released today: Build a Rocket, Boy!

The high expectancy for this gig is clear counting the number of photographers that left the large London and Manchester theatres to photograph Guy Garvey and the band at its first outing. The Junction pit is crowded. As it is overcrowded the Junction stage.

Why Elbow love to open their tour in Cambridge is something I don’t grasp. I remember that a previous tour before the huge success of The Seldom Seen Kid also opened at the Cambridge Corn Exchange about three years ago. That the small and sticky stage of the Junction is not ideal to host the band and its equipment is obvious as soon as the girls of the string session sit down and disappear between the drums and the amplifiers.

That Elbow are a British phenomenon is something I already wrote while reviewing an I Am Kloot gig few weeks ago, their Mancunian mates, which latest album, Sky at Night, was produced by Guy Gurvey. The reason lays in the recent story of Elbow that when the previous album came out took the semblance of a fairy tale. From being a band relegated in the underground of English music for almost 20 years, the arrival of The Seldom Seen Kid rocketed them in the empyrean of British music. They won awards, including the prestigious Mercury Prize, they sold albums up to a double platinum, quite rare these times, and they got out of the pub to come to play in main stages at festivals and arenas everywhere. I wonder if the title of the new album, Build a Rocket, Boy! Isn’t a suggestion to the young bands about how to get in orbit.

Truth is, The Seldom Seen Kid is indeed one of the best recording that not only Elbow but the entire British music has produced in the last decade. The curiosity to listen to what they are up to in this decade generates high trepidation and I jumped on a photopass I was given for tonight show.

Guy Garvey arrives in an elegant black suite and is welcomed by a loud applause. He takes the occasion of the warm moment to advise the audience that this is a first show for many months and they are likely to fuck-up songs, he is likely to forgot the words and so on. Audience loves this sincere confessions and is even more eager to listen to the show.

Show that opens with The Birds a simple title for a long and articulate song that moves in the classic Elbow landscape, a melancholic singing over a noisier guitar that in the middle changes into a growing andante to come back to the grand chorus. Elbow will play five songs from Build A Rocket, Boy! At a first listening they move around the things the band has ever been doing, so they will not disappoint anyone who loved them. It is a safe move in the perspective of an arena tour which requires anthemic songs to get the audience warm and singing along.

Lippy Kids is the song containing the album title verse, With Love sees Gurvey attempting some high notes and Neat Little Rows is the first single and the only new song officially released at the time of this gig. Open Arms instead is the one that will arrive at the end and it sounds as the most epic of these new songs, a tune that the lovers of The Seldom Seen Kid will love.

Overall the new music sounds good and Elbow are experienced folks to gather four of the songs at the beginning and the last at the end of the show so that they don’t come close the big hits.

Truth is that when classics as Grounds for Divorce and Bones of You arrive the new tunes in comparison seem weak. But true is also that to compare songs listened millions of time with songs just heard here for a first time is unfair. Listening to the album will put thing in perspective. As a begin, it sounded good.

Meanwhile the main section of the gig closes with Open Arms. Up to this point about fifteen songs have delighted the audience, spanning any age, and doesn’t stop to clap and shout since the band left the stage and until it comes back to play a deserved encore.

It opens with Starling and Guy Garvey, as to keep the promise, forgets the lyrics making half of the audience, which was there asking nothing else, happy to replace his amnesiac. It follows with Station Approach a rare excursus in the past and closes with a standing ovation with One Day Like This which remains on of those few songs so perfect that they look like they play themselves.

Surely 2011 is going to be a year in which Elbow will play a main part.

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Photo tip

I can’t remember if I ever talked about exposure compensation.

It is one of those buttons present in most cameras. In the analogic film days it was achieved cheating on the ISO (ASA they were called) setting. Electronics era made it widely available and even a cheap point & shot has it.

I want to stress the usefulness and invite you to consider it as a quick way to cope with difficult light situations. To me is faster than spot metering and better than using filling flash (assuming it is allowed and usually it is not).

It requires a good knowledge of the camera, the way it measures the exposition and reacts to backlights. Any camera is different, some tend to overexpose some to underexpose. Spend some time with your gear shooting street at night to understand.

Basically all the system does is to over or underexpose the measured light. Let’s say the camera predict 1/250 @ f2.8 if you set a +2 it’ll shoot at 1/60s. The darker areas will be lightened the risk, often acceptable is that highlight will be burnt.

This Elbow show Guy Gurvey was often overwhelmed by waves of backlights and my camera tended to be tricked by the amount of light and shut at a too fast speed. Result light was OK but the subject was too dark.

If you let your camera decide, even the clever matrix system would underexpose such a classic gig situation because get blinded by the strong lights. Try shooting a lamp in the street at night and see.

A couple of stops of over-exposure (that means +2) and Guy Garvey face came back from darkness surrounded by a surreal halo of light.

What it is difficult to predict is how much to compensate. Giving a correct answer is even more difficult. I rather suggest to do two things. First always shoot raw (rule always valid) raw are much more versatile to correct errors in exposition. Second be generous, try +1 even +2 don’t go +0.3 because you won’t see any difference. Then learn how to do it without leaving your eye from the viewfinder, estimating from what you see how much you need to intervene.

You will not succeed most of times especially at the beginnings, mainly because the lights change quickly, but this is the same reason why you should never stop to check the output and shoot again at a concert. You need to be quick and intuitive.

Be patient, learn from your errors and study the manual it’s plenty of important things to know.

~ by Valerio on March 8, 2011.

4 Responses to “Elbow”

  1. Hi

    I also spent a huge amount of time “in the pit”. I found this post really interesting, particularly the points on using +/- compensation & auto.

    I must admit I just about use my current (Nikon) camera in much the same way as I used the first camera I took into the pit; on full manual (the only real difference is my first pit camera did not have AF – god knows how I got sharp images then!). Working this way I have full, fast control over shutter speed and Depth of Field..

    I find once I am 30 seconds or so into a gig, I get a feel for the light changes and the adjustments are very quick and easy.

    How often are you changing the compensation? Backlighting/front lighting ratios may change so often. On a Nikon, changing the +/- compensation involves holding a button plus moving one of the wheels. I find this far more cumbersome than the “manual” method.

    It has left me wondering how many of my fellow togs in the pit are using Auto and how many are Manual…

    Your thoughts?

    J

  2. Hi Julie,

    Thanks to come to visit.
    As you can see browsing this blog (or just reading the title) I have been shooting on film many years. It meant Manual Focusing, Prime lenses, Manual settings. Yes you miss sharpness, you can fail the right exposure but B&W film has a wide tolerance and in a couple of films I always managed to get some OK shots.

    Moving on Digital I spent some time understanding the camera and I changed my way of shooting. I find DSLR so much easier. The modern electronics (mainly the matrix system and the way it talks to lenses, I am shooting on a Nikon D700) are very reliable.
    Shooting raw helps on the opportunity to deal with colour balance and exposure in post-editing and after few attempts I am set to use a semi automated mode. Either aperture or shutter priority depending on the kind of performer on stage.

    As for the measuring, Matrix works well and once learnt its weakness I can perceive if it is going to overexpose or underexpose (most of the times) due to backlights. What I mainly do is to automatic compensate if I feel that the system is going to be tricked. As I suggested this tip.

    It is also true that I love cameras opportunity to have a ISO priority so I work at 1600 but let it free to go up to 6400 if needed. So even shooting manual with it would be a sort of semi-auto anyway.
    Exposure once was a pair aperture/shutter speed, today is a triad aperture/shutter speed/ISO. More versatile but also more things to control, manually can be slower.

    In the end the best setting is the one you are comfortable that will give you the pictures you are after. There is not a right way to photograph, there is one for each photographer. Once you find your it’s all about fun.

  3. “In the end the best setting is the one you are comfortable that will give you the pictures you are after. There is not a right way to photograph, there is one for each photographer. Once you find your it’s all about fun.”

    here here !!!

  4. Valerio complimenti per le splendide foto!
    Spero di riuscire a raggiungere anche io un livello serio dal punto di vista fotografico, visto che ho la tua stessa passione per la musica.
    Chiara.

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