Gig Review: Elbow at Portsmouth Guildhall

Gig Review: Elbow at Portsmouth Guildhall

In a crowd. Watching live music. In an actual music venue. It’s been an age hasn’t it? In fact, it felt like this moment would never return, lost in some kind of pre-pandemic cultural vortex we’d be talking about in some endless Zoom conversation probably. But then suddenly, it returns, and you’re right back in it. Familiar rituals come back like muscle memory – favoured spots to stand, knowing the best time to grab a pint so you don’t miss the first song, pre-set conversations about past and future gigs – and it’s as if it never went away.

It was always going to be ‘A Moment’ this first gig back, wasn’t it? Luckily, Elbow provide me and the rest of tonight’s sell out crowd with a whole trove of them. The ‘moment’ when ‘Station Approach’ kicks off for example – all drums and hammered piano keys pounding along being one whilst the beautifully epic ‘Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver’ sweeps over the crowd, Guy Garvey’s heart wrenching delivery making the hair on my arms stand on end being another. These are smile inducing moments. Moments which only a mere few weeks ago seemed so far away, like some kind of golden hued memory of yesteryear.

The very first ‘moment’ is of course the opening number, the instant when drumsticks strike and guitar strings are strummed and something you’ve been waiting for all this time is suddenly upon you. Tonight, for starters, we get the broodingly dramatic ‘Dexter & Sinister’ from last year’s ‘Giants of all sizes ‘ album, it’s prog stylings are enhanced by support act Jesca Hoop coming on stage and adding some rather starry, Pink Floyd-esque backing vocals.

As the set progresses, the ‘moments’ continue. We’re treated to a new song – the Beatlesesque ‘What am I without you’ whilst old favourite ‘Grounds for Divorce’ gets a well-received airing, it’s crunching guitar lines offering the set a little more tonal balance.

The final song of the evening is of course ‘One Day Like This‘. Ubiquitously used on everything from daytime TV segments to X-Factor montages, it’s joyfulness cannot be faulted and provides a sing-a-long moment akin to a warm welcome back hug from an old friend. The band of course deliver a faultless version together with the crowd in full voice and it’s made all the more special by Garvey dedicating the song to a 12-year-old kid in the front row experiencing his very first gig.

However, they aren’t quite ‘The Moment’ of the night though. That comes with song number 9 of the set, nestled right in the middle of the evening’s proceedings. That’s ‘The Moment’ for sure. By this stage of the show, Garvey and the band are in full swing and when the crowd starts to sing the line ‘It’s all going to be magnificent’ in one beautiful, homogeneous mass, well, it more or less writes this review for me. ‘Magnificent (she says)’ is a pleasant enough song on record but here it’s soaring chorus being sung back to an appreciative band on stage with a sense of both urgency and dream like reverie will live long in the memory. I look around and take it all in. Is that a tear in my eye? Can I get this emotional standing with a plastic pint glass in my hand listening to what for me is like Elbow’s 14th best song? Yes, of course! Gigs in proper venues, the magic of live music, the buzz of hearing a favourite artist at the top of their game.

Oh, it’s good to be back. Scratch that, it’s magnificent to be back.

Photo: Chris Horton


  1. Aaron

    25 February

    Your review of an elbow concert in Portsmouth was a highlight. Questioning whether the band’s, maybe, 14th best song, sung to an adoring audience in a proper venue, could bring a tear to the author’s eye nearly brought a tear to mine. It’s magnificent to be back reading gig reviews of this quality again.

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