ElbowElbow, Liam Frost and The Slowdown Family

Carling Academy, 18th February 2006

Reviewed by Matthew Ford

As the sun descended upon the Liverpool Carling Academy, legions of local (and not-so-local) fans queued up to see Bury’s finest, the always reliable Elbow. With support coming from Liam Frost and the Slowdown Family, the audience was in for a superb night of intelligent Greater Mancunian rock music.

Liam FrostLiam Frost - who until recently performed his songs solo - is a man whose mop of thick blond/brown hair obscures his face, drawing attention to his posture. Standing tall, his stocky figure crouched attentively over his acoustic guitar. During his solo performances, Frost’s songs were intimate, melancholic and reflective, but lacked the punch to levitate him even to any kind of cult status. However, the Slowdown Family has brought the songs to life, allowing them to breathe with the bigger, fuller arrangements that they deserve. The folk-based material - augmented by mandolin and string parts - were well-received by the audience, indicating that Frost’s popularity is on the increase following his recent shows alongside such luminaries as Badly Drawn Boy and the Kinks’ Ray Davies. Elbow frontman Guy Garvey has described Frost as “the UK’s answer to Bright Eyes” - one of America’s biggest indie rock artists. Such infamy may not be far off for Liam Frost.

The show was a sell-out, and by the time the headliners began their set, the venue was tightly-packed and unbearably hot. As could be expected, the focus was primarily on Elbow’s latest album - the highly acclaimed ‘Leaders Of The Free World’. Beginning with the slow-burning ‘Station Approach‘, the band seemed at home on the stage, playing every note with relish. Those who maintain Elbow’s reputation as doleful Mancunian gloomsters cannot have seen their live show. The emotion and passion put into the songs was at times overwhelming, and the banter between songs extremely entertaining. Indeed, I can well imagine Garvey enjoying a successful career in stand-up comedy; he’s a funny and loveable man, who seems to delight in making people laugh.

In the context of an Elbow concert though, the laughs are just something that come with the ticket price. What the audience paid to see was the music, and who can blame them? Yes, there were the ballads which have given the band the aforementioned reputation. Sublime renditions of ‘Red‘, ‘My Very Best‘, ‘Fugitive Motel’, ‘Powder Blue’ and ‘Switching Off’ kept the ’sensitive’ indie types happy, but Elbow appeal to a much wider audience than most would give them credit for. The band also aired their rawer, heavier material. The “experimental but fun” ‘McGreggor’ perfectly represented this oft-forgotten aspect of their creativity, while the bilious ‘Mexican Standoff’ and storming working class anthems ‘Leaders...’ and ‘Forget Myself’ allowed the crowd to indulge in a drunken singalong.

However, the highlight of the evening was ‘Newborn’. Sure to be a staple of Elbow’s live performances for years to come - as it has been for longer than the band would care to remember - the 7 1/2-minute epic was as majestic as ever. Garvey - who began the song by asking everyone to sing the first line in their best scouse accent - seemed to put his entire soul into his performance, his angelic vocals soaring over the euphoric outro section. But let’s not forget the others. Elbow is a five-piece unit of impeccable musicianship, and this is best exemplified by ‘Newborn’, which was in many ways the climax of the evening.

The poorly-designed venue was so packed that it was a long time before most of the audience were able to leave. Regardless, they left happy, many humming the tunes which lead them there in the first place. Elbow will be back and - undoubtedly - so will the fans.

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