I meant to write about the trip to see the British band Elbow at Los Angeles’s Greek Theater last week, but with the site updates that got pushed back, so here we go. On October 1 we were able to trek to LA and take in a show at the famed Greek Theater, which is set in the middle of Griffith park, with it’s famous observatory looking down at the theater. The occasion: to (finally) get to see the band Elbow live and in person. Elbow is a national treasure in the UK, having received acclaim for each of their four full-length albums, including the prestigious Mercury Prize for their 2008 album The Seldom Seen Kid.
Elbow plays gorgeously arranged music that’s hard to categorize in any easy way. Singer Guy Garvey has a more than passing resemblance to Peter Gabriel’s raspy voice, and while the arrangements of their songs are unconventional it’s not coming from the prog roots that Gabriel has. That said, Garvey has interviewed Gabriel for a British podcast as preparation for Gabriel’s just-released orchestral record.
Elbow most easily sits alongside bands such as Coldplay or Radiohead, but without the overt pop/anthemic aspirations of the former or the freak-out experimentations of the latter. Elbow has the confidence in their songs to let them take the time they need without ever getting boring, and to write them from an unconventional viewpoint that rethinks the standard guitar, bass, drum, keys arrangement of a band. I have to think that the fact that they played together for 10 years before ever getting a record deal has something to do with that, as though they settled in on who they were and weren’t and were confident enough in that to own their own space. One can easily see them, having finally gotten a “break” after a decade, changing their identity to chase a hit single. Thankfully they didn’t and have charted their own course.
The band brought along two string players, a violin and a viola, who added beautiful textures that helped them recreate much of the studio recordings. The band’s stage presence was engaging and confident. It’s easy to see that they love what they do and are thankful to their audience for supporting them. And since they really only play the US every few years, and do a handful of cities at that, the excitement from the audience was palpable, as was the band’s appreciation back. They played a 90-minute set of materials, mostly from their past two albums, and at the end it was easy to imagine them rolling through another 90 minutes without boredom, exhaustion or complaint. Stars at home but obscure in the US, it was clear that this was a band at the top of their game. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another 10 years to see them again. If you’re not familiar with this band, don’t wait – go get some Elbow music pronto.
New releases of note: the aforementioned Peter Gabriel project New Blood is out now. This is a record comprise d of orchestral versions of many of his classics such as “Red Rain”, “Solsbury Hill” and “In Your Eyes”. Gabriel said that it evolved from his mini-tour last year when he was backed only by an orchestra (we got to see that at the Hollywood Bowl), and he wanted to capture those arrangements on tape. His site has interviews with Gabriel on each of the songs and a media player to explore the fill record. It’s hard to say if this will be a success in reinterpretation or a prog-rock stereotype of indulgence, but the tour last year was fantastic, so here’s hoping.
And switching to newer artists, Deas Vail, a fantastic band from, of all places, Russellville, AR, has released their self-titled third record today. The band, led by husband and wife Wes and Laura Blalock, has drawn comparisons to Death Cab For Cutie, Mew and Copeland, both for their arrangements and for Wes’s falsetto voice which can be accurately described as soaring.
I was able to work with the band for an all-too-short time several years ago and they are as deserving of some success as anyone. They tour relentlessly, spend time with their fans on a regular basis and are among the kindest people I know. They also happen to write fantastic, smart and insightful songs and are in complete control of their live show. I was happy to see them gain spots at Bonnaroo and Warped tour, and hope that that will be just the beginning for the band. Catch them now while you can still get some indie cred points for knowing them, and you can also feel good about being part of helping the good guys win one.