Elbow follows up their critically-acclaimed album The Seldom Seen Kid with an exclusive live EP for iTunes, entitled Live From London. The collection consists of eight live cuts and a bonus audience interview session.
The setup for the performance leans toward the unplugged side of a full-band setup. The band is all there, accompanied by a small cadre of strings, but it retains a more intimate, acoustic feel. For example, "Grounds For Divorce" loses some of the punch of its blues-rock original by ditching the electric guitar and instead having the lead covered by harmonica. But this approach also gives the whole affair a more unique spin. In other words, it's more interesting than just album performances with clapping in between.
As for the set list, it's evenly split between tracks from the latest record and their back catalog, although material from Leaders of the Free World is noticeably absent. "Switching Off" and "Fugitive Motel" represent Cast Of Thousands, while "Newborn" and "Scattered Black and Whites" show up from Asleep In The Back.
The performance is mostly very well represented, although with some obvious flaws left in. Vocals on the opening "Switching Off" are spot on, and a brilliant live version; while the following "Fugitive Motel" as well as "Newborn" sound a bit shaky all over. Most of the rest of the recording, however, is much more on than off. The band sounds great, and overall the mix is well balanced for a live recording, although just a touch too flat and up front on the vocals.
As for the interview track, it's actually interesting for a once through. The band goes in to some of their history, and for the most part the questions are relevant and the answers are coherently answered. Lead singer Guy Garvey fields most of them, but he is a thoughtful and well spoken interviewee. The interview is probably not something you'll reach for often, but it's a nice bonus and a good insight into the band.
Elbow fans should be sure not to overlook this, as the track selection is an excellent mini best-of for the grouping, although leaning on their slower material. The main downside has to do with its iTunes exclusivity. Nothing against exclusives, but since none of Elbow's material is available as iTunes Plus releases, your only option remains lower-quality and drm-crippled tracks. Which is unfortunate, but hopefully this material can emerge in a retooled and more consumer-friendly format in the future.