Concert review: Elbow, The Powerstation (+photos)

By Andrew Upston

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Guy Garvey prowled around all edges of the Powerstation stage ensuring no darkened corner was without a few seconds of his spotlight.  Photo / Milana Radojcic
Guy Garvey prowled around all edges of the Powerstation stage ensuring no darkened corner was without a few seconds of his spotlight. Photo / Milana Radojcic

Elbow's Guy Garvey: "At last we meet" [audience cheers]. "It's not good form to apologise right at the beginning of a gig, but I must apologise that it's taken us so long to come and see you" (more cheers from the instantly forgiving audience).

It may have been 22 years in the making, but when Elbow visited New Zealand for the first time last week they took obvious joy in making sure it counted. Majestic then minimal, and every emotion in-between, Elbow don't just write pop music, but gloriously meticulous pop music with a high IQ.

The arguably singular success of Elbow on stage belongs to the ebullient Guy Garvey. Charming, gracious and generous of spirit, his huge voice (somewhere between John Martyn and Leonard Cohen) frames the songs with observational, nostalgia-tinged lyrics that pack a powerful emotional wallop. He prowled around all edges of The Powerstation stage ensuring no darkened corner was without a few seconds of his spotlight. It was one of the few gigs I've been to where the love and goodwill from the stage seemed to literally embrace the crowd like a massive all-inclusive hug between long-lost friends.

Because of Garvey's sometimes rambling but always good-natured between-song banter, an Elbow show has a swaggering spontaneity about it. The songs, however, carry themselves with the emotionally intense baggage from a rollercoaster career full of treacherous seas, personal loss and many beginnings and endings.

The nearly two-hour set - recorded by Radio New Zealand for broadcast later in the year - drew almost exclusively from Elbow's two most recent albums, The Seldom Seen Kid and Build a Rocket Boys!. Highlights were a truly supercharged version of Grounds for Divorce full of the bite and edge of some their earlier material, and the beautiful open-hearted honesty of both Puncture Repair and Lippy Kids, fine examples of Elbow's skill at saying so much with so little.

The set ended with their most successful song to-date, One Day Like This, with its feel-good refrain "So throw those curtains wide/ One day like this a year would see me right", belted by the capacity crowd with all their collective might. "Listen to yourselves, Auckland," enthused the triumphant singer as the crowd roared. Well, Elbow certainly heard, and I know they will be back.

So, a doff of the hat to the five gentlemen from a land afar and stop me if you've heard this one before, but hands down this was the gig of the year. Turn off all the lights, lock the doors, everyone else may as well go home, there's just no contest.

Who: Elbow
Where: The Powerstation, Auckland
When: Wednesday 28 March

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