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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Spacey in a down-to-earth way

British prog rocker Elbow shows its dramatic range while steering clear of the self-indulgent.

April 10, 2006|Natalie Nichols | Special to The Times

The elbow isn't the most erotic body part to name a band after, so it wasn't too shocking that British quintet Elbow didn't ooze sex appeal during its Saturday performance at Avalon Hollywood. Still, shaggy singer-guitarist Guy Garvey exuded a down-to-earth charisma that helped keep the veteran Manchester-based group's prog-flavored pop from being strictly a head trip.

Featuring selections from the band's third album, "Leaders of the Free World," and earlier works, the 75-minute set was emotional but never self-indulgent. The dramatic songs ranged from personal reflections to political tirades, but while often curlicued and filigreed, they managed not to tip into overwrought.

The occasional heartbreak ballad could momentarily blur into a midtempo wash, but mostly the show was about intensity executed with crisp efficiency. Bassist Pete Turner and drummer Richard Jupp provided nimble rhythms that swept listeners into body-rocking fits of bliss and propelled the melodic guitars-and-keyboard storms conjured up by Garvey and brothers Craig and Mark Potter.

Garvey's affection for Peter Gabriel-era Genesis is obvious on the album, and even more so in concert, in both the flashy light show and the restlessly shifting musical dynamics. But different songs also passingly evoked Neil Young, the Beatles and even, on one stormy gothic blues number, Siouxsie and the Banshees.

The emotional range was similarly wide. The wistful "Station Approach" and the driving "Forget Myself" reflected soberly on Garvey's increasingly complicated relationship with his hometown, but "Mexican Standoff" humorously recalled a chance meeting with a girlfriend's ex-lover, and "Leaders of the Free World" snarkily assessed our heads of state. Whatever the mood, Garvey's singing marvelously blended simple and direct with theatrical and grand, making him the all-too-human center of Elbow's spacey, ethereal rock.

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