The day after the 2009 Mercury Prize nominees were announced, art-rock crooners Elbow — last year’s winners with The Seldom Seen Kid — hit L.A.’s Wiltern Theatre for what felt like a meeting of fond old friends. Every song was met with yawps of glee, and frontman Guy Garvey chatted up the crowd like chaps having a pint in a pub, frequently inviting the room to join him in song, even pulling two kids on stage to help “conduct” everyone through the climactic singalong of first-set closer “One Day Like This.”
We were informed after the first song that the band’s equipment was lost in pan-Atlantic transit, and encouraged to applaud the crew for scrambling to assemble the stage. But despite playing on borrowed gear, their sounds of modern romance — a lot of Smiths, a little Bryan Ferry, and a sledgehammer’s kiss of Peter Gabriel — were lush and evocative, from the overture horn blasts in “Starlings” to dreamy love letters like “Switching Off.” Slow-dancing spread like schmoopy wildfire, as for whatever reason the group’s set list drew heavily from the balladeering end of their catalog’s spectrum; this choice caused sections of the night to drag, but threw extra weight behind more explosive numbers like “The Bones of You,” the rubbery “Leaders of the Free World,” and “Grounds for Divorce,” on which Garvey whacked spectacularly at a pair of toms between verses. No matter the tempo, it’s the rhythm of Elbow that generates the band’s strength — every song is both anchored and floated by a pulsating beat that gets in your legs, eminating from a tribal drumbeat, shakers flicked in unison, the whisk of a pick across six strings. A series of dates opening for Coldplay is on the horizon, and perhaps that’s a good chance for Chris Martin et. al. to osmose a little soul from these Manchester lads, who seem to know innately what it took their impending headliners until “Lost!” to find out.
Calling all Elbow fans in the room: Anybody catch this current tour? What do you think of the band’s transformation into a tighter, more commercial outfit? Why do you think they’re not more successful stateside? And have they made the most of their tenure as Mercury champs this year?
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