To the left, Heuston Station – packed with trains on their way to anywhere else. To the right, Kilmainham – packed with bored kids desperate for entertainment. In the middle, Royal Hospital – holding a stage that looks like a space station waiting on some English guys who took the world in their late thirties. The evening is already a strange place.
Elbow’s big Dublin show in 2014 is a festival gig without the festival. RHK is hosting a week of world class acts (Elbow is squeezed between Paul Weller on Tuesday and Jack White on Thursday) and has spared no expense. IMMA’s backyard has transformed into a small town boasting everything from a coffee shop to a newsagency. The venue is a well-oiled machine and the only thing changing is the name on the €30 t-shirt.
Elbow takes the stage coolly, oozing charisma. Leading man Guy Garvey raises his glass of beer in a toast. The crowd screams and a few down in the front toast back. Unsatisfied, Garvey goes on to repeat the gesture again and again through his first song. The crowd is silent as more and more plastic cups of Heineken go up each time. It’s a cheesy gesture that turns into a gracious moment, as we are all reminded what the toast was invented for: good luck.
An outdoor gig in a steady drizzle is hard for any band – even one with a hefty following. The lighting and stage design seems thin and silly in the daytime, the smoke machine is almost laughable. And while Garvey tries for more energy (“Let’s get some more festival stuff going!”) the set is unable to hit its intended heights. Elbow are well rehearsed, with no musical improvisation and no noticeable mistakes. And while the music stellar and polished, you feel like you’re watching an album versus a band.
But as the evening darkens and the beer flows, the strangeness of the evening fades and the magic steps in. Garvey eventually tilts the night in his favour with the brilliant ‘My Sad Captains’ from latest album The Take Off and Landing of Everything. He holds the crowd for the rest of the night through sheer charm (i.e. – waving the Irish flag overhead; asking if you are standing next to somebody you love but haven’t told them.) With such charm, the poetry and remarkable musicianship of the band finally makes their presence known. It’s a formula that’s got Elbow to where they are.
The show ends with the two most popular songs ‘Lippy Kids’ and ‘One Day Like This’ sung back to back. It is a poignant and romantic moment, 4,000 Irish singing out “Build a rocket, boys!” One can’t help but think that even of the youth of Kilmainham were listening.