As a live act, Mark Eitzel is known for his self-deprecating humour, especially more so when performing solo rather than when fronting American Music Club (which seems unlikely ever to happen again, given the death of and/or reluctance of other former members to get involved). Tonight the reflexive slagging is to the fore, with a running gag about how the audience couldn’t get in to the ‘big’ Ron Sexsmith show, simultaneously playing across the river in the Academy. He asks the assembled faithful how much they saved by coming here instead, culminating in someone offering him the difference, which turns out to be €7.50.
‘Solo’ should be qualified, as tonight he is backed judiciously by a three-piece band, The Warm Gentle Rain, consisting of keyboards, stand-up bass and drums. What’s immediately noticeable, as one who has seen both AMC and Mark Eitzel as Mark Eitzel a few times previously, is the warmth and expressiveness of his mature singing voice. Although primarily regarded as an ace songwriter, he has always been a great singer. But now his vocals have grown in confidence and risk-taking, abandoning the occasionally overwrought hectoring histrionics of his AMC mode, deepening into a quietly tender intensity. Not only in overall aesthetic influences and vision, but also in specific soundscape, the nearest analogy for Mark Eitzel at the moment is early Tom Waits.
Not surprisingly, latest album Don’t Be A Stranger provides the core of the set, the standouts being ‘I Love You But You’re Dead’ and ‘We All Have To Find Our Own Way Out’ but there is still time for ample attention to the back catalogue, stretching as far back as ‘Mission Rock Resort’ from 1996’s first solo studio album 60 Watt Silver Lining, to the more recent ‘Why I’m Bullshit’ from 2009’s Klamath. AMC classics get their fair share too, with ‘Western Sky’, ‘Decibels and Little Pills’ and ‘Patriot’s Heart’ all featuring. Always fond of a drink, Eitzel is certainly ‘merry’ this evening, in his own maudlin way. But I, for one, am glad I opted for this gig over the ‘big’ show a couple of streets away.