Who knew there were so many Brit ex-pats living in Auckland?

When Elbow front man Guy Garvey asked all the poms in the crowd to raise their hands, the majority of the sold out audience at the Powerstation suddenly had their arms in the air, cheering with enthusiasm.

The 20-year-old British band have long been a popular international act, with their folky brand of pop-rock imbued with symphonic qualities and led by the beautifully shaded voice of Garvey, but this was their first time in New Zealand.

And the five-piece (who were joined by two multi-talented women on strings and percussion) delivered a two-hour set of songs mostly from older albums The Seldom Seen Kid and Leaders of the Free World, which more than satiated the excited anticipation of the crowd.


Many of the enthusiastic audience turned up early to see Melbournian support act Boy and Bear, who warmed everyone up with their classic rock riffs and lovely five-part harmonies, impressing with their version of Crowded House's Fall At Your Feet, and songs from their 2011 album Moonfire, particularly rousing single Feeding Line.

Elbow opened with The Birds, a sort of extended intro track, before Garvey, who comes across like a giant cuddly bear with his charming Mancunian brogue, got going with his crowd banter.

His showmanship is a large part of the band's live appeal, and he's clearly well practiced in the fine art of getting a large number of middle aged people to do pretty funny things, like raising their hands to reveal whether they've ever been in love, or doing "spirit fingers" for a track like Mirrorball.

But while Garvey may be the ideal front man, the ease with which the four remaining players create this impressive web of tightness and nuance is the key to Elbow's success.

Switching between the melodicism and nostalgia of tracks like Lippy Kids, or Weather To Fly (which had Garvey proclaiming he sounded like a dolphin) and a much heavier sound for Neat Little Rows or Grounds for Divorce (which was a true highlight), it was all perfectly pitched.

Bass player Pete Turner is one heck of a soulful dude, who also switches to MicroKorg for a couple of tracks, while brothers Mark and Craig Potter provide beautiful lyricism on guitar and keyboards respectively.

Drummer Richard Jupp knows how to provide the tasteful rise and fall required of many of their songs (the drumming on The Bones of You was particularly superb), despite being sectioned away behind some clear plastic sound screens.

One audience member actually asked, "Why is the drummer in a cage?" to which Garvey responded: "Because he's a wild animal and he can't keep his hands off me".


It was typical of the banter throughout the show, Garvey advising two front-rowers, Dylan and Charles, to "save their voices for work tomorrow" at one point, and teaching the crowd some "northern English", with a chant that went "can I have some chips, peas, and Fanta". It felt like being at a (very civilised) English Premier League match.

Despite the levity and jovial tone to Garvey's showmanship, there were also some tender moments, like when he told the story of writing Puncture Repair - he was heartbroken, and called up Jupp for some moral support at 6am, who picked him up and gave him the perfect antidote (cups of tea and a newborn baby to hold) - before performing the song with just a piano.

There were a couple of slow patches where they lost a touch of momentum, but with the triple whammy encore of symphonic track Starlings (complete with jokey fake cornet playing), Station Approach (stories about his mum) and One Day Like This, they had the audience in a state of jubilation.

Finishing with the (slightly cheesy) acapella repeated refrain "throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year will see me right", Garvey had Auckland in full voice, even obliging him with "more harmonies" for the climax.

What: Elbow with Boy and Bear
Where: The Powerstation, Auckland
When: Wednesday, March 28

* Elbow play a second show at The Powerstation tonight.
Review by Lydia Jenkin