This week, Elbow released a new live album. Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the band has cancelled their live dates for this spring and summer, so they’ve been posting videos on YouTube of the band, separately, playing some of their songs from home, the #elbowrooms sessions. These aren’t polished, there are occasional fluffs, but I don’t mind; I’m unlikely to see Elbow live in concert again for a while, and this will do.
I’m going to collect these videos in order, and as more are added I will add them to this post. I’ll also offer some thoughts on each song.
The closing song to Giants of All Sizes, their latest studio album, “Weightless” is a song about the death of Guy Garvey’s father and the birth of his son.
As one of their most recent songs — Giants of All Sizes came out last autumn, after my hospitalization — I don’t have a lot to say about this song, except that I love it. It’s song that reminds me of Gandalf’s admonishion: “Do not fear to weep, for not all tears are evil.” It’s sad and beautiful.
A gorgeous song, the penultimate track of Leaders of the Free World, the band’s third studio album.
For a long time I thought of this song as one of the album’s “break-up songs” — the end of Guy Garvey’s relationship with Edith Bowman heavily influenced the album’s lyrics — but its lyrics have more to do, if I remember correctly, an imagined wedding on a Manchester city bus.
I never would have guessed Guy Garvey was a Hawaiian shirt person.
“I’ll blow you a kiss. It’ll reach you tomorrow (reach you tomorrow) as it flies from the other side of the world.”
My first Elbow album was Cast of Thousands. I bought it at the Best Buy in Cary, North Carolina in early 2004, sometime after EA’s MVP Baseball 2004 came out. Elbow had nothing to do with MVP Baseball, but Snow Patrol did — “Spitting Games” was part of the soundtrack and I wanted the album — and I bought the Elbow album and the Snow Patrol album (Final Straw) at the same time.
“Fugitive Motel” and “Not a Job” were the songs that made me an Elbow fan. I ripped the CD to the Xbox demo unit at my EB Games store, and I’d listen to it in the mornings, when doing class counts and other stuff, before the store opened. I had it playing one morning during a conference call with Dave Soltysiak, the regional vice president, and the intro to “Not a Job” was loud enough that he heard it and complained about how rude and unprofessional it was. He wanted to know who was listening to music. I muted the television and said nothing. Pretended it didn’t even happen.
I still love “Fugitive Motel.” I still love Cast of Thousands. Sixteen years ago, and sometimes it feels like yesterday.
“Scattered Black and Whites”
“The dream I weaved today.”
The final song of the band’s first album, Asleep in the Back.
Asleep in the Back is not an album I revisit often. I don’t believe I bought it until after The Seldom Seen Kid, the fourth album, came out. I don’t dislike the album, but I’m more likely to listen to one of the other albums.
“Scattered” is a haunting song of getting lost in memories when looking at old photographs. The lyrical images are vivid, the musicianship compelling. There’s a reason why this song is beloved by Elbow fandom.
Even though I don’t visit Asleep often, “Scattered” is a song I always enjoy when I hear it.
“We made the moon a mirrorball, the streets an empty stage, city sirens violins — everything has changed.”
The most romantic song in the Elbow canon? Certainly the top five. Peter Gabriel thought enough of it to cover it for the Scratch My Back project.
I love everything about this song. I love everything about this performance.
“Magnificent (She Says)”
The most radically reworked Elbow song of these #elbowrooms recorded, thus far, is the lead song to Little Fictions, “Magnificent (She Says).” On the album, it’s an intense song full song strings. This performance is… not intense. Nor are there strings.
“Magnificent” is a song I find very moving. I talked about the original video for the song here, which makes me cry.
I like hearing familiar songs in a new way. Where’s the fun in simply hearing the old familiar performance again?
One of my favorite performances, though not by the band, of “Magnificent (She Says)” comes in this climate change video from 2017 that features Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Jason Isaacs, and David Gyasi.
The final song off Elbow’s third album, Leaders of the Free World, is this piano piece that was written about Richard Jupp, the band’s original drummer. Several songs on the album relate to Guy Garvey’s recent break-up with Edith Bowman. “Puncture Repair” is about how Guy, one particularly difficult night, showed up trashed at Jupp’s place, and Jupp took care of patching him up. A “puncture repair.”
Until this video, I didn’t know what Guy Garvey’s son — and Dame Diana Rigg’s grandson — looked like. Guy was introduced to Riggs’ daughter, the actress Rachael Stirling, by Benedict Cumberbatch at a wedding, they hit it off, and their relationship influenced the lyrics of the last two Elbow albums, Little Fictions and Giants of All Sizes. Their son shows up at the end of the video, during the credits, which sort of ties this video back to the first one in the series, “Weightless,” which is about the birth of his son.
The closing track to Elbow’s 2011 album Build a Rocket Boys!, “Dear Friends” is a lovely paeon to friendship — “Dear friends, you are angels and drunks, you are magi.”
#elbowrooms comes to an end with “Lippy Kids,” the third single off of Build a Rocket Boys! and the source of the album’s title.
This performance is fascinating — there’s a remote choir! Every time I watch I notice someone new in the Hallé Youth Choir Alumni, humming and ooohing. Their facial expressions, some happy, some a little sad.
Be sure to watch this one through to the end.