Elbow on a U.S. tour – it’s like Christmas, except Christmas happens WAY more frequently.  When I heard they would be hitting Chicago, I bought tickets immediately and prepared for the 5 hour drive.  It was worth it.

I arrived at the House of Blues and picked up my photo credentials.  The 1,300 tickets were all sold and the venue was packed.  Amazingly, the friendliness I always find in this big mid-western town was there to great us with a quick line into the venue, a helpful box office, and never a line at the bar.  Even the security staff was super polite when escorting me to the photo pit.

John Grant, now coming to us from Iceland (formerly from Colorado) got things started with a solid but subdued set.  His album Pale Green Ghosts, dealing with some serious big-life themes, was a hit with the indie press when released in 2013.  The live show consisted of him singing with a guitarist accompaniment, occasionally throwing in some keys.  Relying on booming vocals and poignant lyrics, John’s presence was commanding.  I’m just not sure it was the best choice for a lively, sold out crowd.  It brings up the question of whether you pick the opening act to warm up the crowd or find someone who will pull a crowd but won’t upstage the headliner.  While I enjoy the music of John Grant, the energy level he brings was a somber one.

After a short intermission, Elbow took the stage at 9pm sharp.  When you read anything about Elbow, it usually centers on front man Guy Garvey and mentions the “rest of the boys” in glancing blows, if at all.  As the show began, it was not hard to see why.  Four very capable and talented musicians took their places in the shadows and got down to business while Guy stood on the lip of the stage, arms outstretched, raising a drink to the crowd.  And this is how things continued the entire set.

Playing heavily from the new album The Take Off and Landing of Everything, but mixing in a generous helping of the previous five LP’s, Guy showed why every interview seems to be more a visiting of an old friend over whiskey than anything formal.  He was as charming as they come, making the small venue feel that much more intimate.  When touring outside the U.S., Elbow fills arenas nightly.  I was curious why a band of their age and caliber was playing a 10 date tour of mid-sized halls, but was immediately happy they had as much of this accessibility would be lost in an arena.

As they played I wondered what I would like to hear from the back catalog, suddenly realizing how deep it is.  On cue, Guy told the crowd a story that they had been a band for 23 years.  He introduced his fellow band members with the numbers and names of their children, proving that they are just as good at being friends as they are musicians, which is truly something.  Anyone who has shared the manic times and tight quarters that young struggling bands have knows that to be even cordial with each other after two decades is a rarity.


Originally published on Unsung Melody.