Elbow, Co-op Live review: Guy Garvey makes the venue disaster a distant memory

Elbow at Co-op Live Manchester
Elbow at Co-op Live in Manchester - Pete Swift

Phew. After three weeks of delays, cancellations and chaos, Manchester’s £365 million Co-op Live concert venue finally opened with a concert by local band Elbow. And it went, by and large, without a hitch.

“Let’s open this venue properly, shall we?” Guy Garvey said from the stage. Europe’s biggest indoor arena – with design input from Harry Styles – was finally making the right kind of noises.

The place’s opening has been a farce. It was meant to open in April with a pair of shows by comedian Peter Kay. But they were postponed, as were concerts by Olivia Rodrigo and Keane, while Take That and rapper A Boogie Wit da Hoodie moved shows to the city’s rival AO Arena.

Amidst this, the venue’s general manager resigned. The reasons? Issues with the electricals, falling air conditioning units, hubristically optimistic claims about readiness and some injudicious remarks about small venues. Not since Pharaoh Khufu commissioned the Great Pyramid of Giza has there been so much kerfuffle over a vast window-less structure. And there was no social media back in 2600BC.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the vast black box next to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. A few wrinkles remain. The queuing system outside was non-existent, leading to self-regulating orderly queues. I’m not sure Liam Gallagher fans will be so terribly British next month. Inside, not all the security barriers were working, there was no phone coverage and the venue’s coal-black walls were notably dingy. But it was full of friendly staff and the wifi was free and speedy. Everyone was greeted with a free drink or snack. Nice touch.

The crowd inside the Co-op Live arena during Elbow's show
The crowd inside the Co-op Live arena during Elbow's show - WireImage

That Elbow – by delay thus default – found themselves as Co-op Live’s opening act is apt. Their music represents a particular side of Manchester; not the swaggering Gallagher side (in Lippy Kids, Garvey sang that he’s “never perfected that simian stroll”) nor the riotous ravey Happy Mondays side, but rather the poetic, bruised optimism of the Rainy City.

Elbow’s songs were sonic approximations of what John Cooper Clarke calls Manchester’s “delicious shade of pearl grey”. As Garvey sang on Station Approach, “Coming home I feel like I designed these buildings I walk by.”

To be fair, I’m not sure Garvey would have designed Co-op Live, where a pint costs £7.95. It’s a bit shiny for him; the industrial Northern Quarter is more his vibe. But no matter. The sound in the arena was astonishing, its stage fantastically wide.

Garvey recently turned 50. Rather than mellow with age, he’s become more urgent. Elbow’s new album Audio Vertigo is crammed with gritty grooves. “Of course I’ll live to 96 and fix the welfare state,” he sang on opening number Things I’ve Been Telling Myself for Years.

Another new track, Balu, had a meaty crunch. But it was the old favourites that got the crowd going. A giant mirrorball descended for Mirrorball, while Puncture Repair, about leaning on friends, was a slight and delicate piano ballad – it made a nice counterpoint to the otherwise full sound created by the eleven musicians on stage. My Sad Captains, Magnificent (She Says) and One Day Like This had the home crowd in raptures. This is Elbow’s first arena tour for years. Big rooms suit them.

In the foyer before the gig I bumped into the arena’s big cheese Tim Leiweke, the American chief executive of venue co-owner Oak View Group. I asked him for one word to sum up how he felt. “Grateful,” he said.

After one of the most disastrous openings in the history of live music, Co-op Live will be relieved that one day like this finally arrived.

Until August 4. Tickets: elbow.co.uk