It may just be local perception and in reality, this phenomenon occurs wherever Elbow plays, but Toronto seems to be one of possibly many strongholds for the band. I first saw them opening for Doves at the Palais Royale on their third appearance in the city. It was a drizzling June evening and the power of their music blended so well with the stormcrashing waves of Lake Ontario outside the venue windows. That was the night I fell in love with the band.
A common credit Elbow supporters give is the absolute warmth singer Guy Garvey directs from onstage to the crowd. Garvey speaks at length to his audiences, lights them throughout the show and frequently praises them through self-deprecating comments as well as kind words. It’s a feel-good session of togetherness as he guides the audience through vocal call and answer and approbation. Garvey and the rest of the band (brothers, Craig and Mark Potter on keys and guitar respectively with Pete Turner on bass) know that they can travel halfway across the world and give any town a hometown feel because they have adjoined themselves to their audiences.
November 6 at the Danforth Music Hall was no different from their last appearance at the same venue in 2014. The crowd was in high spirits as the band hit the stage with their standard opener on this tour, Any Day Now from their 2001 debut album, Asleep In The Back. They quickly jumped into favourite, The Bones of You from The Seldom Seen Kid. This 2008 album featured most next to the band’s newest output, Little Fictions (lead track, Magnificent (She Says) held the audience mesmerized). The Seldom Seen Kid’s other arguably strongest tracks; Grounds for Divorce, Mirrorball and One Day Like This elicited the strongest reactions of the night. The latter serves as the cornerstone for Garvey’s direction and audience interaction, although the Toronto audience needed no prompting to sing along at full voice to the song’s boisterously positive refrain;
Throw those curtains wide
One day like this a year would see me right
Strong cheers followed other faves – The Birds, New York Morning and Station Approach. As interesting and innovative is the weave of Elbow’s music, the tendency of the song structures are to begin soft and slow in a Garvey-led fashion, while building sonic layers as instrumentation and backing vocals create their Mancunian mille-feuille. Throw in Garvey’s introspective lyrics and languid voice, the repetition isn’t tedious. It’s welcomed as the listener anticipates what’s coming next. While original drummer, Richard Jupp departed the band prior to the writing of Little Fictions, newcomer Alex Reeves filled in well, adding another set of vocals to the mix. The true topping is touring vocalists/violinists, Rosie Langley and Violeta Barrena who add high choral backing vocals and lush strings. The result is almost overwhelming as the music and voices swell to a hymnal fervor.
In one of many points of banter between large gulps at his perpetually-filled pint, Garvey questioned the crowd in a get-to-know-you manner as he poked fun at the band’s 90-minute workday lives. He asked “Who here thinks the job they do is important”. The answer was murmurs. He further inquired “Who here works hard?” to which the crowd roared. Garvey simply replied “hmm” with a chin scratch, leaving the audience to perform a much larger one themselves. If the delighted, departing crowd considered that line of questioning deeper, they’d have told Guy Garvey and Elbow that what they do for those 90 minutes with each performance is what the workaday punter uses as spiritual fuel to push through the doldrums of cubicle travails.