On Seeing Elbow in Washington, DC

Thursday I went to DC to see Elbow.

Elbow, as long-time Allynologists know, is the Mancunian band that I really groove to, and they’re a band that I push on all my friends. Despite being something of a big deal in the UK, the band has never broken the American market; they play festivals and 50,000 seat arenas in Europe, and here they toll for a week in SRO venues with a capacity of maybe 1,500. And on Thursday, they played the 9:30 Club in DC, the same venue where I saw Elbow live two years ago.

I took Thursday off entirely — I have the vacation time built up, I might as well use it — and I decided to do a day at the Smithsonian. The last few times I’ve been in DC I haven’t had the time to do the Smithsonian (yes, I foolishly thought that I’d have had the time to visit at least one museum before the Rally for Sanity), and I really felt the need for some museuming. I hit the Museum of American History first, then the National Gallery of Art, and then the Air & Space Museum. It’s funny, when I was younger I’d have wanted to only visit Air & Space, but as I’ve gotten older, maybe because my interests have changed, Air & Space just isn’t as vital to me. The past, though, and the way the past viewed itself are more present to me. In the National Gallery of Art you can really feel the weight of the past. I realized Thursday that in a few years my niece will be old enough for the Smithsonian, and I’m looking forward to the day that the two of us can go to the Museum of Art. That will be an awesome day.

Enough about the Smithsonian.

In addition to the Smithsonian museums, I also walked up to the Capitol building and the Library of Congress. I also think I walked past Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, one of the stupidest and most venal men to ever serve in Congress (and that’s saying a lot), and I felt physically ill from merely being in his presence and breathing the same air.

Other things I did. I went to a Starbucks because they had out a sign for the Pumpkin Spice Latte, only to discover that, despite the sign, they did not, in fact, have the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Curse you, Starbucks! Curse you! I also found the spot where I stood for the Rally for Sanity, to within about five feet; it’s funny how empty the National Mall looks without two hundred thousand people standing there. ;)

Speaking of rallies on the National Mall, in March there’s the Reason Rally, for atheists and the non-religious. I may have to go to this.

Eventually, I made my way up to the neighborhood where the 9:30 Club is, and I stopped at that Irish pub, Duffy’s, that I visited two years ago. Unfortunately, it wasn’t anything special. They didn’t even have anything interesting on the menu. I had a couple of Guinnesses, because Thursday was Arthur’s Day, a celebration of Arthur Guinness.

The doors at the 9:30 Club opened at 7 o’clock, and there was a decent crowd waiting to get into the venue. I met a fan in the line who had never been to see Elbow before, and I became her guide to all things Elbow. I explained who the five guys in the band were (she really only knew who Guy was), I talked a little bit about the history of the band, things like that.

The opening act, Glasser, took the stage at about 8:30. Her music was interesting (here’s some samples on MySpace), a bit like the sonic love child of Yoko Ono and Florence and the Machine. A little electronica, a little more rhythm tracks, a lot of driving percussion, and a whole lot of a wailing voice. I liked Glasser’s music, and not just because Cameron Mesirow was really hawt (seriously, that sleeveless dress she wore…). There was a lot of feeling to the music, and she was totally into it.

Elbow came on stage at 9:30. First came out the string section, Stella and Jute, and they took seats at the back of the stage. Then the five members of Elbow came out, and they launched into “The Birds,” the opening track from their newest album, Build a Rocket Boys!

And thus began two hours of Elbow goodness.

The setlist was weighted toward the last two albums, BARB! and the Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid. Indeed, after “The Birds” they launched into three songs from TSSK — “The Bones of You,” “Mirrorball,” and “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” — before coming back to BARB! with “Neat Little Rows.” The band also pulled out three songs from Leaders of the Free world — “Puncture Repair” (prefaced with a story by Guy Garvey where he explained that he wrote the song about the band’s drummer, Richard Jupp), “Great Expectations,” and, later during the encore, “Station Approach.” As mentioned, the main songs were from the last two albums, including “Open Arms,” “Grounds for Divorce,” “Weather to Fly” (where Garvey thought about having the audience sing “Happy birthday” to the band, but then he said “Oh, fuck it,” probably because he realized that the audience had already sung “Happy birthday” once before), “Lippy Kids,” and “The River.” “Puncture Repair” and “The River” were especially lovely, because the stage cleared of everyone except Garvey and keyboardist Craig Potter, and Garvey huddled over Potter’s keyboards while performing the songs, lending both songs a touching, tender moment. Garvey’s introduction to “The Night Will Always Win,” as he explained that the song was about missing a dead friend, made me wonder if it might be another song about Bryan Glancy, the “seldom seen kid” and the subject of “Friend of Ours.” While I might have wished for an older cut — “Grace Under Pressure” or “Fugitive Motel” or “Scattered Blacks & Whites” — I wasn’t disappointed by their absence; I heard songs I wanted to hear, and I heard songs I didn’t know I wanted to hear until I heard them.

One thing that struck me was how well the songs from Build a Rocket Boys! worked live. When I first heard the album back in March, the songs didn’t seem to me to be live-friendly. Hell, they barely seemed single-friendly, and I’ve described Build a Rocket Boys! as an American-market-unfriendly album because I can’t imagine which songs would work on American radio. But then as Mark Potter launched into a sonic guitar attack on “The Birds,” my fears that Build a Rocket Boys! wasn’t live friendly faded away.

Guy Garvey interacted a great deal with the audience. During “The Birds” someone near the front held up an inflatable bird, and Garvey smiled and pointed at it. Midway through the show, someone managed to get Garvey’s attention and they had a conversation — it turned out that he had been to Elbow’s first show at the 9:30 Club ten years ago and Thursday was his birthday, so Garvey led the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to Ray. Garvey used a concert-goer’s name, Diana, to start the audience singing for “Grounds for Divorce,” though his attempt at writing an impromptu song with Diana’s name wasn’t entirely successful. Later he jumped off the stage to get closer to the fans, but he had some difficulty getting back onto the stage. Near the end of the show, he sent a message out to two audience members, that one really loved the other, and that was quite cool.

The band was also playful with each other on stage, and they really seemed to have a good time with each other. Garvey interacted with each of his bandmates during the set, giving brothers Mark and Craig Potter shoulder squeezes at various times, swiping bassist Pete Turner’s drink and carting it around the stage, engaging in a trumpet war with Turner during “Starlings” in the encore, and having a waist bump with Jupp.

The concert closed with “One Day Like This,” and Garvey seemed not to want to end it, letting the sold-out crowd, twelve hundred song, sing the chorus over and over. “We won’t be back for two years, Washington,” he said. “Make this one count.”

If the audience’s enthusiasm counted for anything, hopefully it will be to convince Guy Garvey and the rest of the band that Elbow needs to visit Washington, DC sooner than two years from now.

Lovely concert. Lovely set.

Elbow rules. :)

3 thoughts on “On Seeing Elbow in Washington, DC

  1. lovely concert!!

    Other funny thing about the concert it’s that Garvey told the audience that 9:30 Club it was one of the best Clubs in America. He added that one very cool thing about the club is that 9:30 cub has washing machine!!!!!!!!!! (A good reason for a band to play there)

  2. I found a video on YouTube of the performance of “Grounds for Divorce” from the show. And I was surprised to discover that I can actually see myself! :)

    At 0:32 the lights start going up and flaring. And down toward the lower left corner, you can see a guy standing in a light-colored shirt and a baseball cap.

    That’s me, surrounded by a sea of people wearing all dark colors.

    The shirt was a pale green collared shirt, and the baseball cap was a faded blue Chicago Cubs hat. There’s a massive light explosion around 0:36/0:37, and I really stand out, about five people up from the bottom and five people over from the left.

    That shirt of mine is just really reflective. :)

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