Live Review: Eels, Rock City (27/3/13)

Through a smoky mist emerge five inconspicuous looking yanks, all with matching beards, matching shades and dressed in matching retro tracksuits. Perhaps not the wisest of wardrobe inspirations for post-Savile Britain, the band look like they took a wrong turn after a few down the Nag’s Head with Del Boy and Rodders. One of them however, is Mark Everett, better known as E, the brains behind Eels, one of the major players in low-slung loser rock and a master of miserableness.

E made a name for himself in the mid-90s, his début album Beautiful Freak spawning the cult hits ‘Novacaine For The Soul’ and ‘My Beloved Monster’. Retrospectively embarrassed by the mainstream success of Beautiful Freak, E holds more affection for the deeply confessional albums Electro-Shock Blues and Blinking Lights and Revelations which dealt intimately with his own personal traumas after losing a string of close relatives in quick succession.

E’s gravelly vocal tones, self-deprecating lyrics and chunky rock riffs have made him a king of the dead-beat blues, with legions of loyal fans to be found in the late-night bars of inner cities worldwide. For a man who has built a career on moroseness, E and his merry men are surprisingly chipper, reeling off most of the tracks from their latest effort, this year’s Wonderful, Glorious. While the album certainly isn’t one of E’s creative landmarks, it’s still full to the brim with classic Eels rhetoric and the odd gun-barrel guitar riff. First single ‘Peach Blossom’ and the barnstorming ‘Kinda Fuzzy’ go down particularly well, while  ‘On the Ropes’ shows off E’s adeptness at the light touch.

The set plays with mostly new material, other than a handful of hits and a couple of clunky covers, rarely stretching back beyond 2009’s Hombre Lobo. This is a bit of a downer for the part-time fan, especially considering the rich collection of singles the band has amassed up to now. Any one of their big numbers would have fitted nicely in the middle part of the set, if only to break up the barrage of new tracks. When something recognisable did eventually come, a medley of ‘My Beloved Monster’ and ‘Mr E.’s Beautiful Blues’, the excitement was somewhat overdue. ‘Fresh Feeling’ was another odd choice, the track’s iconic lush string section half-assedly recreated on lead guitar by The Chet.

There was a lot of warmth in E’s on-stage demeanour though, and this helped to carry the band through some of the drier patches of the set. E and The Chet shared a comedy moment, renewing their rock vows in a matrimonial ceremony to celebrate ten years together, and the set was littered with liquor-induced anecdotes from the main man. A third encore was another bonus for those who missed the rush to the exit door, the full band smashing through an extra couple of numbers for the die-hards after the lights had gone up.

While he certainly could have dropped in a few of the hits, E’s earned the right to experiment with his shows after 20 years on the road, and the committed fan would no doubt have appreciated an ear to the new material. E’s eccentric and humorous take on life may have made him a man from another time, disjointed and disconnected from the mainstream. But his ability to articulate his dislocation with a sardonic, dry wit, combined with the knack for a great hook, has won him a hard-earned reputation and an enduring admiration from fans around the world.

Jack Dixon

Jack has been listening to Wavves – ‘Afraid of Heights’


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