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  • Writer's pictureJO'B / Nick Meynell

Elbow - live in Birmingham and London, 2024

Updated: May 20

So, Elbow are back out on tour to promote 10th album, Audio Vertigo. I saw Elbow at an NME gig at the Astoria in February 2001, before they had released a single on a major label. This was thanks to my friend Rich, who was then publisher of the NME. They were supporting Doves and played with Ed Harcourt and the (Tommy) Cooper Temple Clause. I met Guy in the VIP area afterwards; he was a lot slimmer (as was I), but he was a beast of a man even then. He shook my hand, and thanked me for saying they were great. Even then he had the personal, gentle, open approach he still has now. I told Rich they would be huge (I am fairly sure he was non-plussed - I am certain he will correct me!). I bought Red when it came out a couple of months later and I've loved them ever since and have seen them many times.

Guy Garvey and Elbow live at the O2 Arena
Gentle Giant Guy

But before we get to this, my friend Nick also saw them this week in Birmingham. So here's both our takes on the London and Birmingham shows.

Tales from the Bull Ring (Resorts World Arena, 10th May 2024)

First gripe ticket prices. Fifty odd quid is too much when Paul Heaton can do this venue for £30. The back three or four blocks have not been sold. Now that’s a lot of lost revenue and very little costs saved. Why? I suspect it’s ticket prices which are too high during a cost of living crisis. I’ve seen this heavily promoted locally, and had countless social media pop ups. I have booked it at a more reasonable £30/35 rather than take the chance (which paid off!) on Twickets. Promoters (and the artists that do have a degree of control) need to rein their greed. It backfires! 


Second gripe-naming rights. Met a family in the lift of the Resorts World multi story. Their daughter had an Olivia Rodrigues T Shirt. They had gone to the wrong venue! (they needed the Utilita in Central Birmingham) I guess that at least this has been built, unlike the Co-op Arena in Manchester where Rodriguez fans were let down last minute. Friends of our recently made exactly the same mistake. I envisage loads of Elbow fans in Central Birmingham being surprised at the band’s new younger (and more female?) fanbase! Call it the Birmingham NEC (whatever) Arena and people will turn up to the right one. Gripe #3 was going to be beer prices, but high prices do stop them being thrown, and Praha is better than the ‘very weak Arena Lager’ they genuinely sold here in the 80s. But as an underage drinker, I wasn’t moaning. Let’s just enjoy the night, it is a Friday after all and surely the best way to start the weekend. 


Support band The Waeve are probably not yet ready for the Arenas but all credit to Graham Coxon for doing something different. The standout track of their set for me was Sleepwalking, although for some of the songs Rose Elinor Dougal’s voice is somewhat overwhelmed. It was her first night away from her (and partner Graham’s) daughter (in two years) and that was understandably emotional for her. They get a good reception from an appreciative crowd. Again, you know an Elbow audience are going to be nice! During the interval the screens remind us of the need for foodbanks encouraging donations to the fantastic Trussell Trust. When I first visited this venue in 1984 (Howard Jones) I had no idea what a foodbank was. How times have changed in the 5th/6th wealthiest country in the world.

Elbow's Mirrorball at Resorts World Arena
You made the moon our mirrorball

Elbow take the stage with a rather good Things I’ve Been Telling Myself For Years from their new LP Audio Vertigo. In less than 2 minutes 50 seconds, Guy Garvey has dropped the C bomb, but you hardly notice it. I guess you don’t expect it from such a pleasant man, whom a Guardian critic recently referred to as a ‘benevolent uncle’. None of my uncles have ever used that word, although my grandmother once did - honest!


Lovers’ Leap from their new (10th) studio LP then gets a welcome airing. The Bones of You and Mirrorball, from Mercury Prize winning The Seldom Seen Kid get the audience nicely enthused. By this time entire band have been introduced (including the brass and strings section) and the audience have been asked if ‘they ‘are OK’ - Nice ‘Guy’ Garvey.


Fly Blue Boy/Lunette apparently references both David Cameron and Anne Widdecombe, 2/3 of the required quota of contestants  for a terrifying game of ‘shag, marry, push off a cliff’. Guy Garvey is incredibly funny. New song The Picture gets an airing, making a total of five from the new record, which seems about the right balance. Dexter And Sinister has Jesca Hoop taking on much of the vocals, and Guy sporting a guitar. It seemed to be mostly an accessory as due to the side on view, it was difficult to see what he was adding musically. We are then reminded that this band is 33 years old. This is possibly the tenth time I’ve seen them, six of those in one of those two aforementioned Birmingham Arenas. I didn’t know them for perhaps half of their career! They have earned the right to play these venues with hard graft and numerous setbacks no doubt. Massive respect for their self-belief and resilience.

Elbow on stage, Resorts World Arena
Elbow or Elvis?

Puncture Repair from Leaders Of The Free World is simply beautiful. Station Approach from the same album gets a welcome play too. Then it’s time for some of the inevitable belters. Magnificent according to Guy Garvey was written about his soon to arrive daughter. It was all recorded before the 20 week scan where the daughter now seemed to have a penis! Some might say a daughter CAN have male parts, but that debate is probably best left alone.


Grounds For Divorce is difficult not to love especially when the heavy drums/guitar bit kicks in! It’s been played live over 360 times according to which shows how this band have grafted over the years. Guy had already teased the audience that it was their very last song - thankfully it wasn’t - and that they were better than the London audience. Surely he wouldn’t lie! Lippy Kids with plenty of reciprocal audience whistling, and One Day Like This rounds off proceedings nicely.


Was this the best performance I’ve seen Elbow do - I don’t really know. They are always consistently good. I really liked the new material from the last two albums which I haven’t heard played live before. As I write this I hear on the radio of a proposal to put a charge on Arena/Stadium gigs to help grassroots venues. What a great idea to help what is essentially the ‘R & D’ of the music industry. Even I would not moan at paying an extra pound levy on a reasonably priced Arena or Stadium ticket. It could make a massive difference towards the 1/3 of small venues which are currently loss making. Thanks Elbow and The Waeve for a thoroughly pleasant Friday evening, just watch those tickets prices!


London Calling (O2 Arena, 9th May 2024)

The day before, Lozzer the Rozzer and I head down to the O2 Arena, technically my most local venue (Blackheath Concert Halls hardly ever has a gig these days, I wish it would have more). I have mixed opinions about this place, but fair play, they seem to have sorted out getting in quickly, getting a beer quickly, the usual gripes and moans I have for enormodome venues. I have never felt dangerously crushed by an oversold crowd (I am talking to you O2 Brixton Academy and O2 Forum, Kentish Town). However, unlike Nick, I really do have a gripe about £8.95 for a pint of lager - it’s outrageous (and when it's shit Budweiser, it's almost laughable - at least it's cut my beer intake at gigs right down).

Lozzer indulges me to head in stupidly early but it means we get in, get a beer and bag a fabulous spot to watch both support band The Waeve and then the main act themselves. I've seen The Waeve before at the 2022 Great Escape. Despite including one of my favourite guitarists (Blur's Graham Coxon) and one of me and Mrs JO'B's favourite singers (Rose Elinor Dougall), I was not blown away then as I expected to be. Tonight is second chance and I hope they finally click.

The Waevel Live at the O2 Arena
The Waeve

Playing four songs from their debut and four new tracks, it's a punchy set. Sometimes I love it, it's all Fripp guitars, Krautrock and Roxy Music. Sometimes the band lose me though, Rose's dancing straying a little too close to drunk art teacher at a school party, dancing a la Kate Bush to a cover of Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street (and there really is no justification for two discordant saxophones playing).

But when it clicks, it's great - You Saw and Sleepwalking were standouts. I will give them another listen. And I didn't realise that Rose and Graham were an "item" and I think that's sweet and lovely.

There is a short break and Lozzer and I procure beers and use facilities, but manage to hold our spot, shuffling sideways to get away from two pairs of blokes who talk incessantly (what is wrong with people?) and a couple, where one guy is gently propping up his rather wankered boyfriend. It's sweet, but this guy is inevitably going to collapse on someone. They must have got shitfaced before they got here or have more money than sense if they are paying O2 prices!

As we wait, Elbow stream videos encouraging the audience to donate to the Trussell Trust. Some shocking facts are shared - more than a quarter (27%) of people who are LGBTQ+ experience food insecurity, compared to 13% people who are heterosexual; more than a quarter (26%) of disabled people experience food insecurity, nearly three times higher than the rate among non-disabled people (10%). It’s shocking. A donation is made, and an election is prayed for as soon as possible.

And then Elbow hit the stage. No matter how big the venue, no matter how large the crowd, Guy Garvey has an uncanny ability to instantly connect with any audience and make you feel you are in a much smaller space, that he is singing and talking directly to you. It's an incredible gift and, alongside their genuine friendship and history together as mates, it's Elbow's super-power. And he nails the banter tonight - “It’s nice to be back in Peter Mandelson’s wigwam” is his opening salvo and it gets a big laugh.

Elbow live at O2 Arena
Crooning the night away

They kick things off with two songs from the new album - Things I've Been Telling Myself For Years (sleazy and moody) and Lovers' Leap (funky, jerky, catchy as hell), swiftly followed by two shouts from their biggest album, The Seldom Seen Kid. It's instantly intimate, yet 20,000 people are belting out the words. Arms are waving, hands are clapping, the band are swaggering (but not in a Liam Gallagher arrogant sort of way - just competent musicians delivering songs from a truly spectacular catalogue, finding their groove).

Loz and I disagree on their best album - she really rates their previous collection, Flying Dream 1, whereas my favourite is The Take Off And Landing Of Everything, which she is not sure about. Different strokes for different folks. I am pleased I get to hear three tracks from my favourite, though it's a shame there are none from Flying Dream 1 - maybe I just need to hear it live. Charge, Fly Boy Blue / Lunette and Dexter & Sinister give the crowd a slice of their more prog-rock tendencies (the tape as people came in was playing I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) by Genesis - prog-tastic.

Throughout the show, the sound is incredible, the band bolstered by six female musicians providing backing vocals, brass and strings - an enormodome needs an enormous sound and they deliver this like a well oiled machine (I resisted some terrible Elbow grease pun here - well done me).

Elbow live on stage at O2 Arena
The Elbow Big Band

From the new album, we get Balu, The Picture and Good Blood Mexico City - rollicking, powerful, polyrthymic prog-pop, but there is still room for the gentle, hushed tones of Puncture Repair and the stately Kindling, Elbow at their most U2-esque.

Tonight's highlight is The Birds, a track I didn't love when it came out, but it's huge this evening, along with a beautiful Lippy Kids, the best whistle-along stadium ode to teenage lust and dreams you'll ever hear. Magnificent and Grounds For Divorce bring proceedings to a close - I am less fussed by the former, but I love the power of the latter which ends tonight on a belting high

We listen to the sublime Lippy Kids from the back, and bail before the final song, One Day Like This - it's a cracking tune, but one we've heard it too many times. As we toddle out and head to beat the crowds to the bus, we notice a few curtained off seats at the back, top balcony, but this is a pretty sold out show. Unlike Nick, I feel £56 a ticket is not too bad, given we have a decent support band I wanted to see - I am questioning my own sanity having paid significantly more to see Liam Gallagher next month, supported by The View (piss poor) and now Liam's son Gene's band (quite dreadful from what I have managed to hear so far). I dread to think how awful the audience will be compared to the lovely crowd this evening.

Guy Garvey live at O2 Arena
The Charming Man

As for Elbow, if they ever play a residency where they work their way through all their albums (as Sparks and The Divine Comedy have done, playing whole albums or even two a night), then it will cost me a small fortune, as I would love to hear Asleep In The Back or Cast Of Thousands or even Flying Dream 1 all the way through. This has been a great gig, watching a band at the height of their powers woo an audience and then wow them. I wonder what's next?

Stay safe, and if you enjoyed this, please subscribe (see link below), x


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