tue 05/07/2022

Eels, O2 Academy, Brixton | reviews, news & interviews

Eels, O2 Academy, Brixton

Eels, O2 Academy, Brixton

Eels succeed in fitting their concept trilogy into one intense gig

Mr E, giving nothing away

Coming on stage in a gangsta bandana, wrap-around shades, and what looked like Saddam Hussein’s beard, Mr E was giving little away. There was no opening gambit, nor any indication of what direction the evening was going. Some had said the Scotland concerts hadn’t been so great. I heard one girl say that if Eels concerts had personalities they’d be as capricious as the fragile moods of the man simply known as E. But E stood there saying nothing.

Of course, on record it’s been a different story: cathartic, contrary and finally redemptive, Eels year-long concept trilogy came to its conclusion last week, with the wonderfully sanguine Tomorrow Morning. Now, the sold-out crowd of (mainly) thirtysomething, well-educated males wanted to know what kind of live form E was on. With the last album so good, I was, perversely, half expecting the worst. It turned out that Mark Oliver Everett and his band – The Chet, Koool G Murder, P-Boo and Knuckles - were on the form of their lives.

Over 27 songs, over almost two hours, with no talk between songs, the songs did all the talking. From the outset when E appeared in his fugitive garb and, standing alone, played “Daisies of the Galaxy”,  a feeling of intimacy took over the room. He may have made little eye contact but the PA carried the voice to every corner of the venue. When The Chet appeared alongside him for “3 Speed”, the venue that held almost 5000 might as well have had 50. It is the most extraordinary song - the world as imagined through E’s poor, dead, mentally troubled sister.

From hereon after there was rawness, brutality, despair, regret, optimism and a great deal of excitement. Visually the band looked great looked like they were playing at the end of time: all beards and hats and sunglasses. There was nothing else visual on stage: it was all very focussed.  

Sonically, it was largely a two-speed experience: thrashy grunge alternating with delicate naivety. But what it lacked in variety was made up for by the playfulness of some of the covers and the beauty of the simple songs. In "Prizefighter", and the cover of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City”, the rhythm section of Murder and Knuckles generated excitement from deep in the bones to the tips of the hair.

As for E, he just didn’t let up for two hours. He may not have told us jokes and anecdotes but he made us smile with musical jokes, like the punk versions of “My Beloved Monster”, or “I like Birds”, or the recasting of “Mr E’s Beautiful Blues” to the melody of “Twist and Shout”. For some, the highlight of the evening seemed to be the rueful “In My Younger Days”, in which E spoke to the heartbroken in the room: “I don’t need misery to teach me what I ought to be/ I just want you back”, but for most, it was the shamanistic “Fresh Blood”, and “Dog-Faced Boy” with their primal, raw anger that really struck a chord.

The three encores of the evening belonged to the new album. We’d had the anger, we’d had the despair. And now there was rebirth and new love. “I Like the Way this is Going”, gave way to “That’s Not Her Way”, to “Baby Loves me” to “Oh So Lovely”. “Oh-so-lovely/ Lord above me/ I feel my heart changin' in mysterious new ways....Now how can I tell you how grateful I am?”

It was hard to tell how grateful the crowd had been. The atmosphere had been subdued. They almost didn’t call the band back for the third encore. But every time I looked around, they weren’t disinterested. They were rapt. There was so much concentration and intense appreciation, it seemed that maybe they’d forgotten to shout and whistle. There was a whole lot going on in that room. A whole lot of emotion. But maybe E had set the tone for the evening. No-one was giving much away.

 

Watch Eels' latest single, "Spectacular Girl" (YouTube):

Comments

Super! What a great evening it was! Wish I'd caught one of his popsicles!

Spot on - a wonderful concert and matching review, except... 1) Average age?? - well, I'm 57... but I was seriously impressed by the large number of teenagers, at least down at the front... How have they got into E??? No idea, and never seen that in all my previous Eels concerts. And props to the guy with the Saxon t-shirt who I thought might be out of place but rocked! I agree that it was a bit subdued but thought it got going when E actually started saying the odd word to the audience. "Hello London" may be a cliche, but a connection does wonders for audience response.

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