Rockers take on mortality 

It may sound corny, but Guy Garvey doesn’t care. The burly frontman for Mancunian prog-rockers Elbow has gotten into the habit of telling everybody how much he loves them at the end of every single conversation.

He says, "The first time I told my dad, at the end of a phone call, he didn’t reply. The next time I was deliberate — I said ‘I love you, dad,’ and he went ‘Uh ... you too, son.’ And these days, he says it with real feeling behind it. It’s such a simple ritual, and it’s so important to hear."

Ever since they convened nearly a decade ago, the other four Elbow members have always jokingly referred to their leader as a hippie. Garvey, 34, got in touch with his softer side the hardest way possible — by dealing with the recent unexpected death of one of his best friends, songwriter Bryan Glancy.

He went on to compose an entire concept album about mortality — "The Seldom Seen Kid" (Fiction/Geffen), which brings the band to Bimbo’s in San Francisco Thursday — and dedicated it to Glancy, who first got him started on his quaint routine.

"Every time you parted with Bryan, he’d say ‘I love ya, mate,’ which was very unusual for the north of England," says Garvey. "So I totally know that that was the last thing we ever said to each other."

Tapping into ethereal "Foxtrot"-era Genesis, "Kid" opens on a sunny note with "Starlings," an ode to Garvey’s new girlfriend, writer Emma Unsworth. But it quickly darkens with the funereal "Friend of Ours," "Weather to Fly" and "The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver" — all metaphors for fleeting mortality.

It’s the band’s most arresting work since its definitive 2001 debut, "Asleep in the Back," and was conceived with a meticulous attention to detail. In the classic prog tradition, Elbow started with 30 songs, then pieced them together into longer selections.

"All in order for this album to work as one piece of music, one body of work," Garvey explains. "Less and less people are listening to albums from start to finish these days, and that’s a bloody shame. So we deliberately made an album where — if you miss just one song — you’ve missed a part of the plot."

But Garvey isn’t all doom. A thread of optimism runs through "Kid," thanks to new parenthood. The Potter brothers, guitarist Mark and keyboardist Craig, both had sons last year. And whenever he’s feeling down, Unsworth cheers him up. "She’s supportive without being indulgent," he says. "Which is so important — to have somebody whose opinion you trust when you get onstage for a living."

IF YOU GO

Elbow

Where: Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $20

Contact: (415) 474-0365 or www.ticketweb.com

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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