Manchester International Festival: Elbow with Hallé Orchestra

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I've long been a fan of Atlanta rock band Manchester Orchestra, but tonight I got a new appreciation for the real Manchester orchestra, The Hallé, as it played back-up band to hometown heroes Elbow at spectacular Bridgewater Hall.

The show was part of the eclectic Manchester International Festival (which also features Antony and the Johnsons, De La Soul, Kraftwerk with Steve Reich, Lou Reed with Laurie Anderson, and tomorrow night's world premiere of Rufus Wainwright's first opera Prima Donna). MIF organizers began lining up Elbow long before the band's breakout album The Seldom Seen Kid went double-platinum in the U.K. and won the nation's coveted Mercury Prize. The venue was sold out, and more than 5,000 fans without tickets gathered at nearby Castlefield park to watch on the big screen.

Everything about the night bubbled with mutual affection between Elbow and its fellow Mancunians, with singer Guy Garvey taking the crowded stage with a toothy grin to open with "Station Approach." Led by conductor and arranger Joe Duddell, The Hallé integrated seamlessly with the grandeur of the band's repertoire. In the seats above the stage, the 37-member Hallé Youth Choir were almost as integral an addition as the musicians. At one point, they sang "Grace Under Pressure," while Elbow and the orchestra just listened with the rest of us.

In contrast to the elegant hall, the atmosphere was casual, familiar and celebratory. Duddell was dressed in black jeans and a short-sleeve shirt. A disco ball threw light onto the hall's 200 or so giant organ pipes. And Garvey continuously bantered with the Castlefield crowd on a large plasma screen. During intermission, he even snuck off down the road to join Jesca Hoop for a surprise duet for the giddy crowd at Castlefield.

"It's been such an amazing experience for the members of Elbow that I'm trying not to gush in between songs," Gavey said from the stage.

He had wait for thunderous applause to die down after each song anyways. From the moment they closed the performance with U.K. radio hit "One Day Like This," the bells of the Town Hall rang out for nearly a half hour. After nearly two decades of playing together, this was Elbow's moment of victory, and it was a treat to be there for the celebration.

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