Elbow at The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, 26 February 2017
Elbow returned to Dublin this week for two sold out nights at the Olympia Theatre – their first shows since the release of their latest album ‘Little Fictions’. Led by affable and sensibly-dressed frontman Guy Garvey, they don’t labour the new album – they’re too long in this game for that kind of messing.
If you want to know how long then bear in mind that this is only their third show with new drummer Alex Reeves after Richard Jupp, their drummer of 25 years, decided to pursue other projects. Reeves, for his troubles, is relegated to the back right of the stage for the night. Perhaps he needs to earn the right to come centre stage.
“I love this country”, Garvey says. “Everyone looks like me”. Hard to know how to take a comment like that, but with this crowd of devotees he could say practically anything and they would lick it up. The line “I still want a bottle of good Irish whiskey” from Fly Boy Blue/Lunette gets a predictably big cheer.
Also predictable is the appearance of a mirror ball on…. Mirrorball. What wasn’t foreseen was that Craig Potter would forget how to play the piano solo on that track. It’s a distinctive part of the song and noticeable in its absence. Garvey turns it into a joke, blaming it on first night jitters and then canvasses the other band members for their pre-tour fears (Guitarist Mark Potter’s is that he’ll arrive on stage with no strings on his guitar).
The wonderfully nostalgic and emotive Lippy Kids is a set highlight, with what sounds like the entire crowd imploring: “build a rocket boys!”. For a Sunday night it’s surprisingly rowdy but Garvey seems to be loving the heckling and banter and is genuinely funny in his responses to some inane comments.
The ending of The Birds sounds even more epic live and recent single Magnificent (She Says) is well-received. All the while bass-player Pete Turner moves about the fretboard with such ease that you’d be forgiven for thinking he was the lead guitarist and Garvey’s incredibly even vocals are note-perfect. And yes, the chin is just as impressive in real life.
Great Expectations is introduced as an old favourite of the band. Apparently it’s about a wedding so secret that even the wife didn’t know it had happened. The title track from ‘Little Fictions’ follows, and it’s another anthemic builder from the Elbow school of songwriting. Garvey is incredibly at ease with the mic in his hand despite not being the most obvious frontman in the world, although perhaps once too often he asks the crowd to wave their hands side to side. After 25 years you’d think he would have a few other tricks up his sleeve.
Grounds For Divorce sees the band off the stage for the “little deception” of the encore, as Garvey calls it. Having convinced himself that Dublin is populated solely by musicians and the musically talented, he devises a plan to have the crowd sing Starman by Bowie instead of the usual wolf-whistling during the encore break. Needless to say it doesn’t work. A combination of it not being the easiest song and the crowd being too drunk are probably to blame.
Re-emerging with My Sad Captains they segue into One Day Like This which has the balconies on their feet. Garvey looks genuinely impressed with the crowd harmonies on the closing refrain of “throw those curtains wide / one day like this a year will see me right”. Strangely this is not the end and they finish somewhat anti-climactically on Kindling, the closer from Little Fictions. But it’s a minor blot on an otherwise impeccable performance.