Elbow takes the stage with “Starlings”, the bold and heraldic song opener from their new album, complete with dueling trumpets blaring.

Early into the set, singer/guitarist Guy Garvey responds to a fan’s remark, “You never usually hear that…Elbow rocks,” but it’s true, the band indeed knows how to put on an unforgettable show and get an audience revved up enough to eat out of the palms of their hands. The new hit “Grounds For Divorce”, with its angsty-blues beat and sexy refrain, is just one more of the evening’s many rocking high points.

Adding to the “rockingness” of it all, there’s the music’s subtle urgency, mixed with quiet grandeur and poignant lyrics. There’s also the fact that Garvey is such an amiable frontman. Sure, he’s got the cocky self-assuredness of a gent who knows he’s talented, but why hide it? To balance out any semblance of pretension, he’s got that northern English warmth and wit on his side. His jovial between-song chatter with his band and fans makes him one with the crowd within moments.


Garvey’s next few jokes point out the fact that a good percentage of the band’s songs are about love: “This song’s about love” and “Here’s another one about love,” he quips. Two female violinist/back-up singers add to the tug-your-heartstrings/love-in-A-minor nature of much of Elbow’s set, from the amazing “Fugitive Motel” to “Mirrorball”. Before the band plays the latter, Garvey gets the crowd to “let go of their inner child” and cheer on Webster Hall’s giant mirror ball as it descends from the ceiling, stopping just low enough to graze the heads of any basketball players possibly standing below.

Since this is the first night of the American tour for Elbow’s just-released fourth album, The Seldom Seen Kid, it was sweet to experience a set dotted with two memorable sing-alongs, (not that I’m personally the sing-along type). Garvey gently persuades the crowd to help with “On a Day Like This” by reminding us of the chorus, “throw those curtains wide…”, ahead of time.


The next sing-along is a bit more astonishing, since the audience starts in without direction and purely out of sheer love for the band. Sure, Garvey teases with, “If you want us to come back for an encore, you’re gonna have to sing,” leading some quick thinker in the crowd to yell out “Killing Me Softly” as an idea. Amazingly, once the band leaves the stage for the pre-encore break, the room bursts into the Roberta Flack tune en masse. Garvey quickly reappears with a glass raised, obviously touched, saying, “Cheers. You lovely fuckers! That was as cool as fuck. I’ve got goosebumps!”

“Grace Under Pressure”, the cathartic song famous for getting all of Glastonbury to its feet in 2004, is predictably stunning with added strings and singers. It makes for quite an encore as Garvey lulls us with the chorus “We still believe in love so fuck you” into the night.–Madeline Virbasius-Walsh/photos by Tear-n Tan