An almost full to capacity Olympia warmly greets the five suited and dapper Eels members who wander on stage and are straight into it. Already we are poles apart from their 2013 appearance at Electric Picnic when, dressed in matching tracksuits, they oversaw a madcap and hilarious set of high octane, upbeat renditions. It seems like this bunch are as much about versatility and reinvention as they are about their exceptionally gifted musicianship, evident on both occasions.
The hodge podge staging for an intimate Olympia gig includes an eclectic array of instruments, most notably an impressive percussion section all neatly displayed on oriental rugs. This coupled with 12 hanging light bulbs from above and rows of light bulbs as backdrop makes for a stylish and visually rich setting.
Lead vocalist and all round funny guy, Mark Oliver Everett or E as he is known, saunters centre stage, pint of Guinness in hand, toasts the crowd and launches into an unusual cover choice of ‘When I wish upon a star’. He has a very likeable presence, joking with his band-mates and making the crowd as much a part of proceedings as is possible. He offers a fascinating dichotomy between the deeply dark lyrics (“woke up lost in a world I cannot escape”) and his infectiously witty ripostes between band mates and crowd.
He humorously refers to his more downbeat songs as bummers with phrases like “this one is newer but still a bummer” which self deprecatingly captures the essence of the themes he writes about including rejection, his well documented issues around mental health and failed relationships. For the first half of their set, there is little interaction and each song holds a morose, sombre atmosphere yet beautifully executed by E and band.
Half way through, E announces “no more bummers lets have a little fun-lets turn this into a Saturday show” which changes the mood significantly and with tales of Guinness guzzling the previous night, perhaps their collective hangover is subsiding and is making room for lighter, punchier offerings.
This second half is more accessible to the lesser die hard Eels fans and with E’s insistence of not taking requests for their more well known songs apart from ‘Fresh Feeling’, which suits this change beautifully. “Birds can’t be that strong, my heart is real,this is that fresh, fresh feeling”. Wonderful stuff.
What is most significant about this gig are the oddities, the highs and lows, the contradictions and the honest lyricism that E brings to the table. While the rest of the band are clearly musicians of a very high calibre it is E that has the crowd in his palm.
At the end he decides to spontaneously hug members of the crowd to much delight and excitement and his response when he comes back on stage: “hugging is gonna sweep the world”. Those that weren’t lucky enough to get a hug this time, well who knows what next time might hold-the unpredictability of Eels makes for an exciting, journey into the unknown.
Eels photographed for State by Derek Kennedy.