It’s been a few years since Elbow played at Plymouth Pavilions, since then, a lot has happened. Brexit, Trump and a myriad of high profile celebrity passings being just a few items on 2016’s hit-list. Admit it, 2016 was a shitty year for a number of reasons, what we needed was something to take us away to another place, a place where we could be ourselves and not have to deal with the daily grind, this came in the form of a new record called Little Fictions at the start of February 2017.
Elbow have been a band since 1990, albeit with a different name “Mr Soft” later changed to “Soft” and then 7 years in, they settled on the name Elbow. Fast forward 20 years and look back at what the band have achieved, seven studio albums all charting in the top 15, seven singles charting in the top 40, a Mercury Music Prize in 2008 for The Seldom Seen Kid and a massive loyal following, the majority of whom were out tonight in Plymouth to welcome the Northerners back to Devon for one night only.
Mid week shows are interesting affairs, they’re a mixed bag and you never really know what you’re going to get until you’re at the show. I’ve been to many that on the outside, looked like great shows but once you’re inside, it looks as if the marketing team took an extended vacation and simply forgot to tell people that the band were in town! This was very much NOT the case at the Plymouth Pavilions. We arrived just after 7pm and the place was buzzing, the box office was frantically dealing with people who had pre-booked tickets, the security team were doing security related things and the levels of excitement amongst the audience was mounting. Thursday night is the new Friday night and it was great to see so many people out and about, letting their hair down.
We entered the main auditorium and got settled for the support act to take to the stage.
His name is Christopher Duncan but he goes under the monicker C Duncan, he’s from Glasgow and is a multi talented composer and musician. He started out playing piano and viola but has since become proficient in guitar, bass and drums. He’s the son of two classically trained musicians and his compositions have been featured on various television programmes, including Waterloo Road. His debut album Architect was nominated for the 2015 Mercury Music Prize and in 2016, he released his sophomore album The Midnight Sun.
He took to the stage along with his band and what struck me from the outset was his voice, tender, almost angelic, like a choir boy but that wasn’t all, 3 of the band also joined him on vocals and together they created a spellbindingly beautiful harmony that floated effortlessly over the mellow sonic backdrop that the band were producing. The large auditorium carried the sound into every corner, filling everyone’s heads with this joyous noise.
Duncan moved from keys to acoustic guitar and the tempo increased, the 4 part harmonies remained which resonated around the room, drilling deep into the psyche of everyone present to witness their set. This is the type of music that you have to get properly involved in, you can’t just play a CD in the kitchen whilst preparing dinner, you’d get far more from it if you give up an hour, mix up your favourite drink, sit down, dim the lights and immerse yourself in the music, let it take over your body and soul and give it the full attention that it deserves, do this and you will be handsomely rewarded with intricately patterned output that continues to give the more you listen to it. I refer to this as “Thinking man’s music” and seeing as they’ve just landed a support slot on Elbow’s 2017 tour, they’re clearly making friends and influencing people in all of the right places!
Midway through their set, the stage was bathed in a bright red light, the dreamy output mixing nicely with the vocals, creating an almost psychedelic effect on the room, all that was missing was a 60’s style oil lamp casting visuals onto a screen and you could have quite easily been at an early Pink Floyd concert (minus Syd Barrett doing crazy things!)
Even after the short set, I was becoming aware of the nuances in the music, the makeup of tracks was similar, some tracks led into a harder edged sound but were soon brought back down to earth with some of the most heavenly vocals I have ever heard.
Duncan is quite possibly the most polite Glaswegian that I have ever come across and after spending time working in the city, I have come across a good number who weren’t as accommodating, I guess 3am in Sauchiehall Street isn’t really the time or the place to make new friends! He thanked the crew, the lighting guys and the audience for coming to the show early to catch his set and wished everyone a good evening prior to leaving the stage.
This is a band that you can really invest some time in and be thankful that you did.
Their set was over far too quickly but I for one will be hunting down the 2 studio albums and setting aside some quality time to get involved and let their subtle blend of dream-pop wash over me and take me away, albeit temporarily from this world of madness in which we live.
This reviewer came slightly late to the Elbow party, only becoming aware of them with their fourth studio album release The Seldom Seen Kid which went on to win the prestigious Mercury Music Prize in 2008 and massively raise their public profile in the process.
Elbow now consider themselves a four-piece after the shock departure of their long-serving drummer Richard Jupp last year. On this tour they are supported by session drummer Alex Reeves and two-backing singers who also happen to be accomplished violin players enabling the band to recreate their often orchestral studio sound.
The band pushed their new album heavily, playing five of the ten new songs on the ‘Little Fictions’ album with a further four songs from ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ in a fifteen song set. The new material was as well received as the material from four of their previous albums.
The stage was sparsely set with just minimal lighting and back-projection occasionally setting the scene meaning the music was very much to the fore. Whilst the band are undoubtedly excellent musicians and Guy Garvey’s mellifluous Lancashire-tinged vocals are as beautiful and heart-rending live as they are on record, this reviewer was initially underwhelmed. Lovely ballads with beautiful heart-felt vocals do not make for a great live concert. As the gig went on, their bigger, more anthemic songs made for a more interesting gig and the atmosphere and crowd’s involvement grew.
Songs such as "One Day Like This" which ended the main set and "Grounds for Divorce" which was the final song of a three song encore were a particular highlight and sent the crowd away on an undoubted high. So, all in all not the great concert this reviewer had hoped for, but not bad nonetheless.
Review by Keith Hunt
Photographs by Julian Baird Photography