Elbow open their arms, lift spirits in stirring turn at the Wiltern

Elbow at the Wiltern, November 16th, 2017. Photos by Michelle Shiers

Manchester’s Elbow finished their North American tour last night to a sold-out crowd at the Wiltern. Having released their seventh studio album, “Little Fictions,” in February, Elbow are still rich with melody and warm with spirit in their steady career, now spanning 25 years. The humble U.K. quintet opened their set with “Any Day Now” from their first album “Asleep In The Back” and then into “The Bones Of You” from “The Seldom Seen Kid.” While Elbow’s music has always been rife with gentle rhythmic storms and sweeping orchestration, the sentiment hasn’t always been terribly uplifting. However, their new material seems to be filled with the long-awaited joy of a man who, say, fell in love, got married and had a child.

With emotional crests and big-hearted balladry, Elbow satiated their audience of besotted devotees, as gentle frontman Guy Garvey held his arms out crooning about love. And sometimes trains. Garvey came across as truly genuine and approachable, making an effort to lock eyes with nearly every person in the audience. In fact, not being pointed at by Garvey seemed like a fail. Playing the crowd like wine glasses, he instructed the audience to harmonize, to participate in sing-alongs and to show off freestyle jazz fingers. He joked that the previous night, the band visited a karaoke bar where Garvey sang Neil Diamond and keyboardist Craig Potter danced to hip-hop tracks. The audience was also introduced to Elbow’s new drummer Alex Reeves, who took over when Richard Jupp left the band after 25 years.

Some of the fan favorites were “Fly Boy Blue,” “Magnificent (She Says),” the tear-jerker “Mirrorball” and “The Birds,” which began with a stir and then built momentum into meditative grandiosity and reassuring abandon. Lyrically, Garvey is sometimes very specific and personal. His words paint detailed portraits of a life and then somehow morph into a comforting bigger picture from which we all draw. Although he had an Autocue to help him with his catalog of wordy verses that could fill the King James Version, he didn’t seem to glance at it once.

Elbow closed their main set with “Kindling” from the new record. Backed by two violinists, they then moved into their most powerful sing-along to date, “One Day Like This” which gave everyone the joy of yelling out the lyric “Holy cow I love your eyes!” The audience was left chanting harmonies a capella, “Throw those curtains wide / One day like this a year would see me right.”

Naturally, they returned with open arms for a two-song encore of whistle-along “Lippy Kids” from “Build A Rocket Boys,” and then with Garvey pounding away on a couple of drums, they ended the night with their most beautifully aggressive chain-gang tune, “Grounds For Divorce.” Everyone filed out of the venue with the notion hammered into them that everything is going to be okay.

Photos by Michelle Shiers