Villagers have returned home to Dublin after a high profile support slot with Elbow on their latest tour which wraps up tonight, the only Irish date of the tour. A devoted few get in early to catch Villagers. However, in a venue the size of the O2, their set – drawn largely from slow-burning debut Becoming A Jackal – doesn’t quite connect and one can’t help but feel that this band and these songs belong in a more intimate venue. For a support band, they lack the hooks, choruses and charisma to make an impression on those undecided / apathetic punters who might be here, purely, to see Elbow. The title track elicits the loudest cheer of Villagers’ set but this wasn’t Villagers’ finest hour.
Walking on stage to a lavish red curtain back-drop, Elbow’s sound of big drums, chunky bass lines, strings and Guy Garvey’s strong tenor voice, effortlessly fill every corner of venue. And opening with ‘The Birds’, followed by ‘The Bones of You’ and ‘Lippy Kids’, they hit a groove in a set that begins promisingly. As a live band, they’ve grown leaps and bounds since their May 2001 gig in Temple Bar Music Centre in support of Mercury Prize nominated debut Asleep In The Back. Garvey makes for an unlikely stadium-rock front man. The runway stage into the audience, along with his witty banter in between songs, is a successful attempt at bringing the audience in closer, making the experience more intimate in contrast to the band’s sound. At one point, the remaining band members join Garvey on the runway stage for an acoustic intro to ‘Weather to Fly’ and shortly leave to finish the song with full, electric arrangements. In a way, it’s the most telling song of the night; a song Garvey wrote about the band, its performance here tonight is a visual representation of the how the band have mutated from British music’s best kept secret to where they are now.
The set list, however, finds Elbow on cruise control. They don’t delve too far back into their back catalogue. Instead, they play it safe with a 17 song set that is drawn largely from Build A Rocket Boys! and The Seldom Seen Kid, with just three tracks from 2005’s Leaders Of The Free World. Their first two efforts – 2001’s Asleep In The Back and 2003’s Cast Of Thousands – weren’t written for the arenas that their most recent records were and therein lies the element of risk: can these early songs work in an arena? It’s a relief, then, when ‘Grounds for Divorce’ arrives during the set; it changes a mood and tempo that has become quite even paced, quite sedate when, really, Elbow should be firing on all cylinders.
Finishing, quite predictably, on ‘One Day Like This’, arms are in the air and Elbow are home dry. Given that this is their first tour of the arenas, they already seem like old hands in what is a well co-ordinated show. Here’s hoping that when they hit the festivals in the summer that they’re able to shift gears more convincingly and give a wider representation of their enviable discography.
© Philip Cummins. All rights reserved.