Live Review: Elbow & C Duncan – Manchester Apollo

For the third of four hometown Elbow shows at their favourite venue in the city, the wonderful Manchester Apollo, we ambled down with glee to catch Guy Garvey and co., plus superb support from Glasgow’s C Duncan.

Performing tracks from his debut, Mercury Music Prize-nominated album Architect, plus his excellent new effort The Midnight Sun, released last October, C Duncan took to the stage surrounded by burgundy-clad bandmates. Whilst stage presence might not be his forte, muttering between tracks and standing rigidly behind his keyboard, it really didn’t matter, as he let the music do the talking. Ethereal and atmospheric throughout, Duncan’s chamber-pop, mixed with indie, folk and electronica, provided a beautiful and ambient start to the night. Say was a particular highlight, being one of our favourite tracks of 2016.

After a short break, the lights then dimmed and the local heroes marched out, drinks aloft and to thunderous applause. It’s been a while since Elbow stepped onto the Manchester stage, but if ever there was proof that they still commanded the love of their hometown, it was tonight as part of a sold out 4-night stint in support of new album Little Fictions.

A lot has changed since the release of their 2014 LP The Taking Off And Landing Of Everything, including a solo effort from Garvey, his marriage to actress Rachael Stirling and the loss of drummer Richard Jupp, who left the band after 25 years. But a replacement was needed for the latter and as the curtain dropped, they presented Alex Reeves on drums, plus two exceptional backing singers / violinists who Guy stated to be solo artists in their own right (but we didn’t catch their names, so we’ll have to get back to you on that!). Opening with Gentle Storm, taken from the new record, the stage-prowling frontman immediately had the crowd in the palm of his hand, with claps, singalongs and waving hands that were set to last throughout the entire evening, as he requested that his loyal gathering ‘fall in love with me’.

Seven albums in and the band now have a huge back catalogue to choose from, yet they managed to pick one of the finest setlists they’ve performed for years. Bones Of You, from their breakthrough record Seldom Seen Kid, rattled the walls, whilst Fly Boy Blue / Lunette showed both the rocking and intimate sides of the band, providing the first of numerous ‘goosebump moments’. It is rare these days that four 40+ year old gentlemen can lead a packed venue of 3,500 for four nights in a row in the same city, but Elbow and Guy Garvey have this magical ability to draw the very best out of people, Monday or Friday, hometown or not.

New release All Disco was a particular highlight, before leading into the quite stunning Mirrorball, a track that never fails to lift the heart, and a gloriously rousing New York Morning. Yet one of the finest moments of the night came in the form of Great Expectations, taken from 2005’s Leaders Of The Free World. Garvey, an ex-choirboy, displayed just how wonderful his vocals can be, and accompanied by the beautiful vocals of the currently nameless backing singers, the sounds from the stage swooped and soared from one end to the other.

On a personal level, My Sad Captains provided the greatest of those ‘goosebump moments’, with its meticulous and stirring ode to Manchester, friendship, drinking and nostalgia. Then, as the set came to a close (wink wink), the band turned it up a notch further, with new album hit Magnificent (She Says) and the inevitable One Day Like This, which was met with an enormous roar and a singalong that was second to none.

Foot stomps and encore demands then ensued, before the local lads sauntered back out with those imperfect simian strolls, much to our delight. Echoed whistles from preacher to congregation then signalled the start of the sumptuous Lippy Kids, as the audience recalled those innocent days of kidulthood and all at once declared ‘build a rocket, boys!’

The night them came to a close with a rip-roaring version of Grounds For Divorce, a song that, despite being set in a Mancunian converted toilet (now the ever-so-slightly nicer smelling Temple Bar), took Elbow to new heights and justly-deserved global recognition. Yet this is in itself sums up Garvey, Turner and the Potter brothers – pub-like cosiness and easy to connect with, no matter where on the globe you choose to rest your feet and sup from a bottle of good Irish whiskey. Long may we continue to have nights like this, in grand surroundings and with splendid company. After all, as Garvey poetically puts it, ‘if it’s all we only pass this way but once, what a perfect waste of time!’

Dom Kay