Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Eels – Brixton Academy, London 21/03/13

26 March 2013, 12:50 | Written by Merle Jobst

Eels are a band that mean a great deal to a great many people. It’s remarked by someone, as we await the arrival of frontman E himself (a man occasionally otherwise known as Mark Oliver Everett) that Eels are the band that mean the world to ‘everyone else’ in the alternative ‘scene’; the wholesome middle-grounders who never truly moulded themselves to a clique when they were unearthing their tastes.

Since the release of the band’s historic 1996 debut Beautiful Freak, people of all walks have identified with the both uplifting and pain-laced output of E; something often attributed to the personal struggles he has encountered, through which he has managed to create a seminal beauty – a beauty many have grown up with and been shaped by. Nobody ever claimed the band or their following were cool – or uncool, for that matter – and somehow this has raised E and his backers to a Holy Grail-like level of credibility.

In keeping with this, the band are introduced, in darkness, by a lone voice proclaiming “…and here they are. Ladies and gentlemen – hold onto your hats”. Clad head-to-toe in blue Adidas tracksuits, shades on, heads bopping in unison, there’s certainly nothing trendy about them tonight but in a way they’re almost the antithesis of the trend-based industry they, inevitably, are a part of. They begin with new album Wonderful, Glorious’ opening track ‘Bombs Away’, and we’re simply blown away with E’s clenched, screaming guitar tone – it sounds fantastic.

This isn’t the soft, comforting blanket of bitter honesty many grew up wrapped in by Eels – no, tonight and maybe now simply for good, they’re a different kind of beast. They’re raw, through and through, and although E’s been growling for a long time, it now feels intrinsic to him and his songwriting. Emotive tracks like ‘Woman Driving, Man Sleeping’ are a very, very distant memory, but they’re oddly not missed; especially when gritty songs like ‘Peach Blossom’ drop, well and truly knocking the wind out of the crowd’s collective chest. For the most part it’s shameless head-banging rock n’ roll, and as unexpected as that may be, it’s some of the best we’ve ever seen – especially when the band crank out a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ of such panache that we’ll likely be talking about it for days to come.

Perhaps most fantastic of all, though, is the fact that this is also one of the most hysterically funny shows – musical or otherwise – we’ve ever seen. Newcomers would likely have expected E to be, if anything, as brooding and bitter as he comes across in his music, and yet, he’s in fact of the furthest disposition from that imaginable. He’s personable, comical, occasionally gaudy, and yet not appearing desperate to please – he’s just ‘doing his thing’. His relationship with his band, on-stage at least, is very close and wonderfully entertaining, throughout the set. Sharing many flamboyant hugs and back-and-forths, introducing them to us at last because “it’ll mean a lot to them – and their parents.” E also ‘renews his vows’ with guitarist The Chet, with whom he’s been playing music for ten years; a ceremony officiated by the band’s bassist, and played out by a short, farcical round of Bette Midler’s ‘The Wind Beneath my Wings’.

We get a lot before it’s over. A visceral rendition of Wonderful, Glorious highlight ‘The Turnaround’ leaves us dazzled, but the night is made for us by a glorious medley of ‘My Beloved Monster’ and ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’ – a performance of fluctuating tempos and timbres, and incredible fluidity. It’s not over ‘til it’s over, though, and a lucky few are treated to a second secret encore of the visceral ‘Dog Faced Boy’. The house lights are still blaring, most of the 5,000-strong audience have dissipated, and those not quite out the doors flood back from the atrium to see one of the most personal, candid moments we’ve ever come across in live music.

Eels are honest, because really, that’s all they’ve ever known. They’re not concerned with keeping up any appearances, because the Eels that we know and love were always an utterly warts-and-all act. Whilst it’s true that the sound and attitude they’ve reached at this stage in their careers is quite a fundamental shift from the string-kissed indie-rock that made them the central heating, comforting Sunday morning breakfast and thick scarf in the midst of winter of many people’s lives, it’s heartwarming to see E and the boys enjoy themselves as much as they do tonight – and even more so, it’s a pleasure to be able to enjoy it with them.

Photograph by Jason Williamson. See full gallery here.

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