red lights


English lads cater
to art rock audience

Double Door
Chicago, IL
April 16, 2006
Elbow Elbow Elbow

Story and Photos By Andy Argyrakis

Listening to an Elbow record is like taking a time portal back to the late 1960s and early 70s when groups like Genesis and King Crimson were first finding fame with their progressive tendencies. Catching the English bred band in concert makes for a similar art rock experience, minus the grandiose stage props and over the top pageantry. It's a unique resurgence circa 2006 and one that's certainly kept the group confined to a somewhat narrow listening niche, though even within that limited window, its earned mounds of critical kudos and intense adoration from pretty much everyone who's ever bought any of the aforementioned acts or Peter Gabriel's first few solo records.

In fact, getting to meet that innovator during a trip to his Real World Studios was a main muse in Elbow's intricate formula and one that has set the tone for its three V2 Records releases.Elbow It's latest Leaders of the Free World picks up in a natural progression from where 2004's Cast of Thousands left off, weaving lushly painted lullabies, atmospheric rhythms and psychedelic nuances that can't necessarily be compared with anything on the market these days, though take one look at its members and they don't seem to really care about making concessions for the mainstream. Just take a look at the full-figured front man Gus Garvey, whose casual dress and scruffy stubble are far from the most marketable, but that just further demonstrates prefer getting down to business over hype derived nonsense. And throughout a dreamy 90-minute set, the group unraveled its multifaceted but highly satisfying pedigree, split between both of those aforementioned albums, along with samples of 2001's Asleep in the Back.

Opening with the new album's sublime lead cut "Station Approach" and gliding into the older "Red" built the tone for the swelling, Steve Hackett-inspired licks throughout "Leaders of the Free World." Those lush acoustics soon scaled back for the acoustic "Fugitive Motel," which feel somewhere between a supernatural lullaby and a spacey trip into a galaxy all its own. "Mexican Standoff" picked back up in pace, crossing Coldplay styled chord progressions a la "Clocks" with anything from Radiohead's more electronically inclined Amnesiac album. Yet even more endearing was "Forget Myself," which appears to be the closest in Elbow's catalogue thus far to an American breakthrough hit potential, as evidenced by a sturdy audience sing-a-long. The evening's overall finale "Newborn" brought the set list full circle, returning to the art rock influences on which the group was founded, complete with a tripped out but tasteful instrumental outro.

Despite all the brilliance, Elbow admittedly lacks some degrees of accessibility that would allow them to branch beyond its pre-existing audience. Though some have lumped the band in with Coldplay or the Doves (probably because of its British background) the material doesn't regularly resound with near the number of hooks of the first or the sheer emotion of the latter. While the gang tips the scales towards the progressive revival, the tunes are way mellower than anything Mars Volta or Coheed and Cambria may release, thus lacking appeal with more youthful audiences. Though it remains to be seen if Elbow will lean in either of these directions on future releases, it's in a class all by itself as it stands right now. And for better or worse, that's exactly where members seem to like it, paying tribute to their past heroes, incorporating their own experimentation from today and forging forward with sophistication and determination.

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