mon 15/08/2022

Eels, Shepherd's Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Eels, Shepherd's Bush Empire

Eels, Shepherd's Bush Empire

An eventful and uplifting evening from alt-rock's erstwhile poet of despair

The last time Mr E toured these shores he looked as if he might be heralding the end of the world. Dressed all in white with a Moses beard and gangsta bandana, his songs were about inner struggle and personal redemption. Between songs he remained mute and mysterious. How things have changed. This year the band is touring the much fuzzier Wonderful, Glorious and last night Mark Everett hardly shut up.

The change in mood was evident even before the band had taken to the stage. As I arrived “The Candy Man” from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory was playing over the PA and there was a jolly feeling in the building. Soon, a 19-year-old from South London called Misty Miller arrived on stage. She was the main support act, looked like Laura Marling and stood, with precocious confidence, jamming out blues riffs reminiscent of the White Stripes. Still, her voice, melodies and words were very much her own and really quite spellbinding. If she had been the only entertainment on offer I would have left content.

After Miller left the stage a collection of roadies wearing grey 1970s style tracksuits started to prepare for the main event. The band too were wearing tracksuits, theirs being navy blue. At the back, P-Boo and The Chet sported aviator sunglasses. In front were two risers: one for the drums and the other for Mr E who, after the opener “Cancer for the Cure”, welcomed us with a cheery, “Yeah, the motherfucking Eels are in the house.” This was, evidently, not going to be one of their more intense, cathartic evenings.

It was, mainly, downright good fun with plenty of goofing around. Between songs there were hugs a-plenty between band members and at one point they all broke into an amusing cover of The Beatles' “Let it Be” recast as “Let it E”. Indeed, the mood was such that when the bass amplifier started playing up on another track, Mr E quipped so quickly about it having eaten a bad kebab you might have thought the incident was planned.

But there was also a lot of Eels trademark darkly defiant optimism on offer. “Dog-faced Boy”, with its “Ma won’t shave me/Jesus can’t save me” lines, was savage, as was “Prizefighter”; right up, that is, to the point when a girl in the front row fainted in front of Everett, and the band had to stop. Yet, as powerful as the hard rocking tracks were, as usual it was the slower songs that really got under your skin. Although these numbers were a little under-represented in the set, “Dirty Girl” and “Climbing to the Moon” were spine-chilling.

That the evening was a little lighter than in previous years was generally met with delight by the crowd who seemed relieved that the famously troubled singer's mood was so up. Many also were aware of the fun Everett was intending on having with the encores: the band were to pretend they were only allowed to play one song and then to surprise the crowd with two more appearances, the last coming after half the crowd had already left. In reality, four-fifths of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire crowd were still there for “Open My Present”. Personally I think they should have called it a night after “Mr E’s Beautiful Blues”. Even in its mashed up form, it was still stunning.

Overleaf: Watch the video for "Peach Blossom" from Wonderful, Glorious

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