An Intimate Evening with Elbow

Vortex Music Magazine

Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, with his agreeable British accent, cordially hosted a sold-out crowd at the Wonder Ballroom on Saturday night.

"We're very excited to share an intimate evening with you Portland," said the gracious host before he and his four bandmates of 23 years launched into the second song of their blossoming set at the Wonder Ballroom on Saturday, May 24.

Like a good host, Elbow's Guy Garvey was welcoming and witty, charming and compassionate, engaging, entertaining and one helluva crooner.

Throughout the night, Garvey was full of banter (sometimes offering heartfelt insight into his songwriting* but more often just amusing us) and advice (because "I know that's what you came for") as he spent the evening setting up songs and then knocking them down alongside the men he's spent the better part of this adult life with—and who, after all these years, "still stun me" on a regular basis.

A good host is also accommodating (in an effort to make bassist Pete Turner feel comfortable everywhere he went, Garvey told audiences it was his birthday every night—for a year—but tonight, it really was his birthday—maybe), understanding (the solution to heartbreak is to go get blotto, surmising, "not sure if it's good advice but I've given it"), and acknowledges extra effort (recognizing an audience member—Jessica—in the front row who was at her third show of the tour) and appreciates it (dedicating "Fly Boy Blue" to her). 

He'll even play the matchmaker on occasion, dedicating "Mirrorball" to Rebecca and Daniel—who weren't sure if they were on their first date or not—before the lights dimmed and the bright reflections from a disco ball burst through the darkness.

Sometimes an adroit host needs to be assertive, taking matters into his own hands by getting behind the ancillary drum kit for an extra blast of bombast on "Grounds For Divorce" (below).

And when it's time to send you on your way, he's able to tuck you in and almost put you to sleep as Elbow closed the main set with the poignantly fitting lyrics of "My Sad Captains": "And if it's all we only pass this way but once / What a perfect waste of time."

After 90 minutes and 13 songs, each delicate and epic, inspiring loud singalongs and plenty of arms swaying from side to side, the fervent, middle-aged audience—a demographic the band recognizes and embraces, like a good host should—was ready for the final two songs: "Lippy Kids" called for not just call-and-response lyrics during the chorus but also whistles, and "One Day Like This" was spectacularly supplemented by the band's touring pair of violinists—aka the "American string section."

And with the message "Throw those curtains wide / One day like this a year would see me right" still stuck in our throats, a good host sends you home with something to remember.

*Mentioning that "Great Expectations" is his "favorite song we've ever written" but "I like the introduction as much as the song" as he proceeded to describe a secret wedding on a Manchester bus, one that happened so quietly that the bride doesn't even know it took place.

If you missed Elbow at the Wonder, your only other chance to catch them in the Northwest is on the Sasquatch main stage from 5:50-6:50pm at the Gorge Amphitheatre.

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