The homecoming show of the band following the loss of a member, at Manchester O2 Apollo, 18 March

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Tonight is the first of four homecoming shows for Manchester favourites Elbow and marks the end of their current UK and Ireland tour.

The live dates are also their first as a rebranded four-piece following last year’s unexpected departure of their original drummer, Richard Jupp, as the band celebrated their 25th anniversary.

They stroll on stage humbly and begin with Gentle Storm. The stripped-back track from their latest album, Little Fictions, introduces the revised line-up modestly and emphasises singer Guy Garvey’s signature vocals, which are as comforting as ever.

As its final notes end, the curtain behind the band raises to reveal their new drummer, Alex Reeves, plus a pair of backing vocalists, who accompany them on a majestic performance of The Bones of You.

The band has many family members and friends in the audience tonight. Nancy and Ruben, the children of guitarist Mark Potter, are singled out among them. The latter is commended by Garvey for having recently won a best guitarist award at Ramsbottom Music Festival. He is clearly following in his father’s footsteps and chants of his name from the crowd ensue. Garvey dedicates the subsequent performance of All Disco to “the whole Potter family” – including keyboardist Craig Potter – which does everyone concerned proud.

After singing New York Morning, Garvey’s personal love song to the American city, he references its final lines: “The way the day begins/Decides the shade of everything/But the way it ends depends on if you’re home/For every soul, a pillow at a window, please.” With this, he shares his vision of Manchester being the first city to eradicate the issue of homelessness. He jokes that he’ll end his speech before getting “any more Bono”, but his message is as sincere and genuine as you would expect from him.

Elbow hit full stride during Little Fictions, their new album’s title track, which injects intensity into the show’s midway point. It is a beautiful, slow-building song that could easily fill an arena and therefore sounds wonderful within the confines of a theatre.

With seven studio albums and an EP under their belt, choosing a set list means overlooking many fan favourites. “We can’t play them all,” says Garvey, as a devotee near the front shouts their request. But the 15 tracks chosen tonight manage to offer a cross-section of their back catalogue, provoking a mix of emotions, ranging from poignant to joyous.

As the show nears its end, The Birds provides strong, electro-tinged beats and soaring vocals in equal measure. This is followed by their recent single Magnificent (She Says) – a gorgeous ode to Garvey’s imminent fatherhood. His wife, Rachael Stirling, is expecting their first child shortly after the tour finishes.

One Day Like This closes the main set. It is punctuated by violin strings, provided by the multi-talented backing singers, and features an unrehearsed choir of 3,500 fans during the chorus.

A profound version of Lippy Kids begins the short encore, complete with Garvey’s casual whistling and the crowd’s pleasantly out-of-tune retort.

Garvey is on fine form all evening. He informs the crowd that the art deco venue has an architrave damaged by Jimi Hendrix, though this transpires to be “a beautiful Manc lie”.

Grounds for Divorce draws the evening to a close. A security guard hands the mobile phone of a fan to Garvey, who obligingly provides their friend with an onstage view of the performance from the comfort of their living room via FaceTime. It is small gestures like this that set Elbow apart from other bands and have cemented their popularity over the years.

After over a quarter of a century together, the band have commenced a new chapter in their career after losing an original member but, on the basis of this show, the beginnings of an exciting new story are starting to unfold.

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Interact: Responses to Review: Elbow

  • Martin
    23 Mar 2017 19:32
    I went with my wife on the Sunday night, we got there around 8pm and caught the supporting band C Duncan who we'd not heard before and I felt they were a great complimentary performance. I'd describe them as a melodically rich electronic sound with breathy sweeping vocals and rolling acoustic beat. The drummer was actually really on point and drove each song along with purpose which was a good balance to the, euphoric and trippy synths and guitars, a class act on the percussion by the drummer. I really liked them and found myself drumming along on my knees and bobbing my head to the rhythmic beats, my partner less enthused but not audibly offended :-) Then the main event, it was my first time seeing Elbow live, I've been an occasional listener fan since the Seldom Seen Kid album so I suppose I'm pretty late to the Elbow party but they were a joy to hear and watch. Humble, fun and very Manchester proud. The performance was spot on, acoustics in the Apollo were excellent. Guy was relaxed and his southing vocal tone never wained. The crescendo performance was of course One Day Like This, which the whole older crowd like myself who were sat in the stalls pulled ourselves to our feet to join in. Elbow finished on this and I wondered if they would come back on to encore give the risk of "how do they top that!", but encore they did and played and extra 3 songs which did not disappoint. Wonderful night, I will see them again...

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