With support from Bat for Lashes
Elbow - Live At iTunes Festival 2012

“Throw the curtains open wide. One day like this a year’d see me right.” These days an Elbow gig is a group therapy session, thrumming with warmth and positivity, as though the band remain eternally grateful for their lofty status after so many years of fruitless struggle for recognition. And while it’s true their recent output tends more towards the anthemic than even their early offerings, who can resist the charms of Guy Garvey, the embodiment of witty, soulful, Northern intelligentsia with the common touch. The bear hug is all embracing. “Good evening Camden, and to all those watching at home in their underwear.”

Of course there’s more chat than a local radio DJ, and the band’s frontman knows how to work his audience, which is a good thing, as this multitude is not his hardcore fan base, having assembled through the iTunes ticket lottery. Once or twice frustration crosses his face at the crowd’s less than intimate knowledge of the group’s work.

Unsurprisingly the set leans heavily on the Mercury Prize winning ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, but departures from this also reverberate along the Roundhouse’s timbers. Following ‘Mirrorball’ the crowd is led through a mass breathing exercise, and the final communal sigh Garvey elicits is, well, breath taking, before the group flings itself into the pulsing maelstrom of ‘Leaders of the Free World’. A mid-set lacuna sees the group gather round the keyboard for ‘The Night Will Always Win’ followed by Craig Potter on piano for ‘Puncture Repair’; two deeply personal songs that seem to visibly move Garvey on stage. The themes of friendship and bruised adolescence are clearly close to his heart.

Elbow find the universal in the commonplace and this genuine feeling for humanity isn’t lost, in an arena in which you can swing a train, the venue’s original use. “While the Sex Pistols played downstairs,” quips Garvey. And so you see him either clutching the microphone to his lips, as if he’s blowing on some tinder in his hands, or spreading his arms open wide as the figurehead of a ship ready to carve through the audience. There’s an appreciation of simple good fortune in Elbow’s lyrical, gently haunted songs and knowing when your luck’s in. And if it does feel like a church in there by the end, rather than Mad Max’s Thunderdome, that’s a pretty good sermon about life to take home.

Despite being the cousin of former world squash champion Jahangir, Natasha Khan, alias Bat for Lashes, says she’s out of breath half way through her short, but immaculate set. New songs, including current single ‘Laura’, blend seamlessly with the old, such as ‘Sleep Alone’. This bodes well for the new album release in October, ‘The Haunted Man’. Physically a diminutive version of comedienne Josie Lawrence she puts everything into her performance, a rich, soaring voice delivering powerful, folktronica melodies. There’s a touch of Annie Lennox and Siouxsie Sioux in them and the overall effect is not diminished by some of the instrumentation having been pre-recorded.

Words by Adrian Cross
Photo by Richard Gray

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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