“Where are we? Oh, we’re in Ireland!” Mark Oliver Everett appears to be experiencing the ol’ Mid-Tour Blur, where every venue in every country on the itinerary melds into one. But that’s OK, because the outpouring of bro-love between him and his bandmates tonight should see him through. In fact, there’s even a ceremony conducted halfway through the gig where he and his longstanding guitarist, ‘The Chet’, are joyfully pronounced frontman and, well, guitarist. The band, E included, are all decked out in blue Adidas tracksuits, sunglasses, beards and the odd flat cap. It’s likely they’re aiming for Californian tracksuit chic, but this is Dublin, so it could be just as likely that they’ve arrived here at the Olympia after a long afternoon spent drinking cider and putting money down on the gee gees.
With no less than ten studio albums under his elasticated waistband, E has a lot of material to draw from, including a string of hits that stretches way back. But that’s not how tonight’s show unravels. The focus is very much on Eels’ more recent offerings, with a trio of songs from the recently-dropped Wonderful, Glorious LP – ‘Bombs Away’, ‘Kinda Fuzzy’, and ‘Stick Together’ – kicking-off the show, before they segue into a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’. The only nod towards the rear of the back catalogue early on comes from the Shootenanny! era – a wonderfully bouncy rendition of ‘Dirty Girl’.
The thing is, though, there’s a sense of trepidation amongst the crowd, an unwillingness to move in time to the beat. It’s a feeling that returns again and again throughout the set, despite the band putting in an energetic, near-flawless shift. Eels have more than their fair share of upbeat melodies, but perhaps listeners have become more aware of the dark, melancholic lyrical themes hiding behind them. That’s certainly the way it seems, anyway; it’s hard to dance when E is baring his soul without feeling pangs of guilt, even if his tunes have some of the catchiest hooks this side of a meat locker.
Most of the old favourites are off the menu tonight – there’s no ‘Novocaine for the Soul’, ‘Susan’s House’, or ‘Last Stop: This Town’ – but they do work ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’ into the encore, which finally breaks the spell and gets people dancing and singing the words. And then it’s over, with the band huddling together for one last bromantic polyester embrace before disappearing offstage. It’s been a performance perhaps best described by a man State has never met before, who turns around mid-set and yells, “This is a fucking great gig!” Because y’know what? He’s right.