When I presented my ticket for scanning at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, last night I also mentally scanned the date: Sunday, March 29, 2020. So I was about to see Elbow in concert in Belfast over two years after the date I was due to plonk my bum on Seat 16, Row 3. It was the same seat. But everything has changed.
Many of Elbow’s songs have that anthemic, timeless quality. Performed, they are less songs and more like experiences - little thrill rides of emotion and poignancy and observations of what it is to be in love, loved or to love.
They would have been wonderful had they been performed on March 2020. But in the intervening two years of “the thing” (as it was referred to by Elbow’s lead-singer, Guy Garvey) the band members have moved on in life, new songs have been written and the old songs have become more elemental, more insightful, more likely to engage those back-of-neck hairs.
The cultural similarities and emotional overlap between Mancunians and the people of Belfast was buttered deep on the bread of last night’s performance. Garvey pointed out his own sister and the lead guitarist’s in-laws in the crowd. There they were, arms held aloft, dancing, crying, no doubt.
Collectively we were all living the moment, held as emotionally aloft as a rock star jumping into the arms of a devoted crowd. But at the back of everyone’s mind, I’m sure, was the feeling that everything had changed.
I hadn’t quite appreciated it before I arrived at the Waterfront Hall last night, on a typical, overcast-sky and slightly nippy Belfast June evening, just how much the experience would mean. I have steadfastly, despite the odds, travelled, ducked and dived the regulations, steadfastly attempting to keep some semblance of old normal in a life and relationships that have been recalibrated and made less understandable by ‘the thing’ and the response to ‘the thing’.
But at one point it became clear. Last night Guy Garvey turned his audience into a choir. He asked them to chant, or whistle, in unison. Each and every one, practically, was pitch perfect. The chants were the voices of a shared humanity, and shared moment - as precise and in-tune as the lasers that filled the glorious Waterfont Hall with sparkles and light-rods.
When we come together as individuals, as bands of brothers, and we can share our frailty, our love, our emotion, our lives are enriched. We know that more than we’ve ever known it. That’s why everything has changed.
You made the moon our mirrorball
The street's an empty stage
The city's sirens, violins
Everything has changed
Apologies for the typo in Guy Garvey's name in the mailed-out version of this article to subscribers. Now corrected in the web version.
Beautiful piece Jeff