Elbow @ Castlefield Bowl, Manchester, 9 Jul
Manchester's poets laureate Elbow return and hint at more greatness to come with a sneak peak at their upcoming new album Giants of All Sizes
"Let’s see your hands again, you doubting bastards!"
Only one half of that statement is characteristic of Guy Garvey. The first part is par for the course; anybody who’s ever been to an Elbow show has been subject to him demanding, in his inimitable Mancunian lilt, that the crowd put their hands where he can see them. The second half of the sentence seems a little less usual, or at least it does written down. Garvey, the city’s presumed poet laureate, has just announced that Manchester means breast-shaped hill in Latin; Castlefield is the only place in the city centre that can boast Roman ruins. Not everybody believed him. So – tongue firmly in cheek – he took his frustration out on the audience.
Elbow arrive here at a weird juncture in their own lives; Little Fictions, their first album since their unexpected split with longtime drummer Richard Jupp, is now more than two years in the rear-view mirror. That means that the first record from the band whilst out from under that shadow is imminent.
Advertisements around the city on the night of the show suggest it's due out on 11 October and will be called Giants of All Sizes. We get a taster tonight in the form of Empires. It’s thrilling; taut, urgent, forward-facing. Suddenly, Elbow sound anxious again. That’s a good thing.
Elsewhere, the set’s predictable. The funny thing about Elbow is that, ever since winning the Mercury Prize and solidifying The Seldom Seen Kid as the record that made them an arena band, they’ve almost consigned the three albums that came before that to the history books. Anybody who signed off after Leaders of the Free World will find little solace in a set that includes Mirrorball (always gorgeous), My Sad Captains (always fabulously witty), and The Birds (always interminably dull).
It’s not about the song selection, though. It’s about the band and their connection to this town. Garvey’s the sort of guy who could spin a yarn about the intricacies of him taking the bins out and still come out sounding every inch the bar-hardened raconteur, and he’s on particularly nostalgic form tonight.
He pays tribute to two key figures in Elbow’s story; first, Jan Oldenburg, who used to run the Night & Day Café that Garvey called his office in the group’s fledgling years, and then Scott Alexander, who was, for a long time, in charge of Big Hands and Temple Bar, two iconic dive bars – the latter is the 'hole in my neighbourhood / Down which of late I cannot help but fall' from Grounds for Divorce. As a dedication, Garvey offers up a classic anecdote from his Hands days, which involved him showing up one afternoon and being applauded by the staff and regulars alike, much to his bemusement.
"It turned out that earlier that day, at about four in the morning, I’d left the place by crawling backwards under the shutter and almost into the road – I nearly got my head taken off by the taxi that was there to pick me up," he admits. sheeplishly. "If that driver’s in the crowd, then thank you for your cat-like reflexes."
As if to hammer home how much this town’s watering holes mean to them, they close with a thunderous take on Grounds for Divorce; Mark Potter’s guitar on that song could level what's left of the old Roman fort. Disappointingly, though, there’s no encore – lights up and music on before the crowd can even ask for one, which is unusual. Clearly, Elbow had somewhere to be. Let’s hope it was Blueprint Studios – just up the road – to put the seal on Giants of All Sizes, if they haven’t done so already.