Friday, March 25, 2011

today : I break my own code and do a rock review

I rarely feel like writing reviews. Let's face it. The world is too full of reviews. Most critics add little or nothing to the sum total knowledge of the world and its artistic endeavours. The few that I do read or follow, it's mainly about their style than their opinions. The Kermodian rant is, in itself, simply entertaining, as is the Joe Queenan essay. Clive James reviewing books old and new is mainly about the plethora of elegant sentences rather than a recommendation or rejection. Anthony Lane reviewing films holds a similar appeal. They simply use the medium of the review to write or talk pleasingly. Charlie Brooker's intelligently acerbic analyses of TV are about his bitterly romantic worldview and persona rather than the specific shows.

Much less useful than most paid critics are amateur reviewers. In line with the old adage, everybody does have an opinion about things they've read, heard and seen. There is nothing more demoralising than people who believe that their opinion is more worthy than the opinions of others. We know who these people are. The ones who clog Amazon up with their infinite and infinitely turgid opinions, the ones who blog endlessly and pointlessly their often inelegant and under-considered responses to whatever CD they've bought or film they've seen. Mostly this is to do with the fact that their reviews are written from a standpoint of blind love or blind hatred.

Sometimes it is to do with the fact that the medium of the review is a dead easy way for people to pretend they write with legitimacy. In much the same way as blogs (including my own) contain varying levels of envy. Nuggets of jealousy that someone else somehow gets to write their opinions in a newspaper column or pronounce them on TV: amateur reviewers ( like bloggers - like me) are essentially saying 'I can do that. It's not that hard'.

But the other night I saw Elbow in concert and am inclined to review it. It was a strange event for me. Elbow are my brother's band. Unlike me, he has their albums in his collection and would declare himself a fan. Possible dates coincided with the beginning of him taking a couple of weeks off work and also my neice's Easter break from University. She and her graduate student brother decided it would be a good idea to cajole him to go and see one of the shows and roped me into the role of organiser. But on the morning of the show he was knocked off his bicycle by a lunatic driver and ended up in the hospital. Thankfully the injuries. although not superficial, were also not life threatening.

But we faced the coming evening with the stress of worry and general deflation. We were gutted for my brother, whom, despite a determination to get out of A&E in time to make the trip, was clearly in no condition to travel. Broken hands require some attention and a serious bike crash can leave a person battered, bruised and traumatised. Even if the x-rays, casts, prescriptions etc could be completed in time to set off, he would be in no physical condition to attend a show for quite some days or weeks.

With the main quarter of our party incapacitated we were disinclined to go. But my bro insisted. Being the cause of our non-attendance would be, for him, much worse than not attending himself. So off we went.

Elbow are one of those bands that exist, for me, in the quite good/quite interesting category. I own none of their records and have never seen them live. But each time I've seen them on TV or heard them on the radio I felt well-disposed towards them. Like lots of people, I watched their 2009 Glastonbury show on the telly. It's widely acknowledged as their breakthrough moment. The string laden encore of 'A Day Like This' was one of those 'Glastonbury Moments' (like Orbital playing as the sun went down in 1994, Travis playing Why Does it Always Rain as the rain fell in 2004, Pulp doing Common People in 1996 and Blur's rendition of Tender in 2008). It thrust the song into the limelight and consequently it became the soundtrack of many peoples' summer.

Unfortunately, they were a bit overplayed. I didn't need to own The Seldom Seen Kid album, as it was used in every TV show and trailer for months afterwards. The aforementioned 'A Day Like This' soundtracked antiques shows, the X factor, science shows and reality shows ad infinitum. Close behind was 'Grounds for Divorce'.

And I sometimes listen to Guy Garvey on his radio show. He seems like a nice chap, and plays an interesting palette of sounds.

A couple of weeks ago, before we'd booked any tickets, I heard the band play a session on the now late lamented Radcliffe and Maconie evening show. I was struck with how restrained and elegant the music was. When we got our tickets I wondered how they could translate this mature, reflective music into an arena.

Here is my review. I needn't have wondered. The Elbow show at Sheffield Arena on March 19th 2011 was simply quite magnificent.

I came away thinking that, even not as a fanatic fan, I had witnessed a band who knew exactly what they wanted to do and executed it perfectly. These were people who had worked hard over a long time before they achieved great success, but perhaps because of their age and experience, knew how to embrace and enjoy it. What made the show so marvellous and totally engaging was the strong impression of sheer sincerity. In amongst the technical wizardry of the light and video show and the cavernous space with its giant crowd, they managed to maintain an intimate atmosphere, devoid of pomposity. It was spectacular but never flashy. A great show that didn't need to be showy to be great.

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