The phrase ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ could have been invented for Elbow.
Despite releasing three albums with barely a bad track on them, and building up a steadily loyal live following, commercial success eluded them while they had to watch less talented contemporaries gather all the garlands.
But in 2008, with the release of The Seldom Seen Kid, they caught the bouquet.
The album won the Mercury Music Prize, and last month they even picked up a Brit Award. So there was a celebratory atmosphere in the Academy tonight, with Guy Garvey and his bandmates greeted like all-conquering heroes as they strolled onto stage.
Accompanied by four female backing singers-cum-mini-string section, the familiar opening chords of Starlings filled the venue, punctuated by bright flashes of light and bursts of brass (featuring Garvey himself on trumpet).
Unsurprisingly, given The Seldom Seen Kid’s success, the setlist leaned pretty heavily on the recent album. In fact, the first three songs played were Starlings, The Bones Of You and Mirrorball, perhaps raising expectations that The Seldom Seen Kid would be played though in its entirety.
It wasn’t, although older Elbow fans waiting for gems such as Powder Blue, Grace Under Pressure or Red may have been disappointed. Yet the beauty of Elbow’s back catalogue is that they can easily put together a pretty flawless set-list, given the strength of their songs.
Garvey also made for an engaging host, constantly checking with the audience whether they were having a good night, explaining the background behind various songs, or dedicating a song to bandmates Craig and Mark Potter’s parents who were in the audience. Resolutely unstarry and down to earth, Garvey is one of the most likeable frontmen around.
There was also a guest appearance from Sheffield’s very own Richard Hawley for The Fix, a superb performance which demonstrated how much affection there is between Garvey and Hawley (two peas in a pod if there ever were). A breathtaking version of Switching Off and a brilliant Weather To Fly, featuring the entire band standing around Craig Potter’s keyboard (and downing shots of liquor), were both undoubted highlight.
Elbow have the capacity to make you lose yourself in their music, no matter how big the venue. Nowhere was this more aptly demonstrated than in Newborn, especially the intense coda featuring Craig Potter’s superb keyboard work. whether it be this or the sight of Garvey bashing hell out of a standing drum kit for Grounds For Divorce, it’s impossible not to admire the band’s intensity.
However, if there’s one song that’s going to define Elbow, it’s One Day Like This. And no matter how many times it’s used for Olympic montages or even a Big Brother final, nothing can rob the song of its power and majesty. It was tonight’s big singalong moment, with Guy even firing a cannon of glittery ticker tape out onto the audience.
A beautiful, if low-key, encore of old favourite Scattered Black And Whites brought the evening to an end, leaving us in no doubt that, no matter how big they become, they’ll never lose that ability to hold an adoring audience in the palm of their hands.