Latest release from reunited Elbow explores life from a middle-aged perspective, appreciation
By JEFF ELBEL For Sun-Times Media May 16, 2014 3:07PM
Elbow (Richard Jupp, from left, Mark Potter, Guy Garvey, Craig Potter, Pete Turner) | PHOTO BY TOM SHEEHAN
With John Grant
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: House of Blues,
329 N. Dearborn
Tickets: $35 (17+)
Info: (312) 923-2000;
Updated: June 18, 2014 6:10AM
Elbow is undertaking its broadest North American tour since supporting its breakthrough fourth album, “The Seldom Seen Kid,” in 2008. The British band’s current activity marks the end of an unprecedented 18-month break. Given the quintet’s 24 years together, fans might expect that returning to the stage was as familiar as climbing back onto a bicycle.
“It was like riding a unicycle on a tightrope,” says singer/guitarist Guy Garvey. “But feeling six foot taller as a result. It was nerve-wracking, but as soon as we finished I wanted to do it again.”
Elbow performs at House of Blues on Monday.
Garvey once suggested that Elbow’s growing success held the potential to disrupt his melancholy frame of writing. The intimate and evocative imagery on their new album “The Take Off and Landing of Everything” indicates no such trouble.
When Elbow last visited Chicago for a performance at Park West, they brought heart-exploding epics like “Starlings” and “Mirrorball” that described romantic beginnings and wide-eyed potential. By contrast, new songs including “This Blue World,” “Real Life” and “Honey Sun” examine endings and uncertainty.
“It’s just where I find myself, approaching 40,” says Garvey. “An awful lot happens at this stage. Most people have lost a friend. Maybe approaching that point in your life, you’re re-evaluating.”
Garvey notes the pressure on young people to know their aspirations for adulthood, and remembers a career evaluation he received at age 12. “Some guy from the council turned up at school with a book full of jobs you could do, given your grades.”
“I’d just become obsessed with the film ‘Jaws,’ ” says Garvey. “So I said, ‘I want to be a sharks fisherman.’ The man said, ‘Why don’t you go to university to study marine biology?’ And I said, ‘No, no. I don’t want to study ’em. I want to kill ’em!’ And that was the end of the interview.”
“I think what’s generally termed a mid-life crisis is people saying, ‘Hang on, I’ve got to this point, and I don’t really like what I’m doing. I might do something else.’ ”
“Everything about my life, I love,” says Garvey. “But still, I’ve had certain plans truncated unexpectedly. I think the album’s about where I was, where I am, and where I want to be. But it relates to the whole band.”
“Charge” addresses the end of the spectrum, with an older character at the bar wondering why he’s ignored by the younger crowd.
“I can’t pretend it’s not a little part of me approaching 40 and newly single,” says Garvey. “I don’t know anyone at this age who’s suddenly off the hook that doesn’t go back into the world thinking, ‘Do women still find me attractive?’ ”
“And you realize that no, they don’t,” says Garvey with a laugh. “The character in ‘Charge’ is based on a guy in his 70s who used to knock around Manchester. He wore a pristine velvet suit with a quiff. He was no company — really grumpy. But if you managed to get him in his cups, he had extraordinary stories.”
“At the beginning of the song, he’s aggressive and bitter. At the end, the same words are begging company. If anything, the perspective is for younger people. Don’t think you invented this stuff. Give people time.”
“People are my favorite things,” says Garvey. “I have an enormous, sprawling family and they all like to tell a story. My grandfathers were great raconteurs. It’s definitely where I get my thing. I realized young that you are your stories. They’re all valuable, whether or not you think so.”