Elbow, Stubb's, Friday 16
Reviewed by Mindy LaBernz, Fri., March 16, 2001
Stubb's, Friday 16
Now when exactly did British music officially stop focusing on style and start worrying about the music? I blame Radiohead, of course, what with all their hifalutin' ideas about challenging the audience with subtle melody and complex production. Clearly Elbow is going to be a band in which music precedes fashion. The lead singer is baggy, untucked, and unshaven. Further, he's the solid, bloke-y type who could have just as easily put his vocal talents to work in the stands of a football match as front a band -- as opposed to those scrawny, elfin characters who have no choice but to pursue a career in fabulousness. I know this sounds paradoxical, but Elbow apparently makes music meant for listening, certainly not for getting the baseball cap crowd ready to rock ass with the Black Crowes. Musical priorities were established from the first song: The bass, keyboard, and drums -- even the close, unorthodox harmonies -- took precedence over the two guitars, which didn't enter until mid-song. On the follow-up, the guitarist -- who had been seated on a stool -- stood and strapped on a lovely red guitar for a "song about being pissed off." However, being that they are English, they managed to sound only mildly cross. The vocals acted merely as another instrument in the sonic porridge; whether that was the mix or the intention was unclear. In fact, this is one of those bands whose intent won't come clear in a 40-minute showcase, not that that's a bad thing. There's "music" afoot here, though the songs and lyrics were indiscernible during such a short, fuzzy listen. (I'm certain the lead singer is saying something of import, though. I can tell by the look in his eye.) Unfortunately, I'm shallow, and this music's not, so my frame of reference is too limited to name-check other bands by way of neat comparison. The terribly reputable music journalist to my left, however, compared them to the shoegazer strain of pop -- an easy box, if not an unfairly tiny one. The good news is they have an album coming out in May on V2 (their two EPs are apparently virtually impossible to locate). As the confused industry starts muddling around in the dark in hopes of stumbling upon another Radiohead, they might just throw some tour support Elbow's way. After another listen, even a simpleton like me might have it figured out.