Live at O2 Academy Leeds on Tuesday, 19th March 2013
Many adjectives have been applied to Eels main man Mark 'E' Everett throughout his long career as a purveyor of bleak grunge-inspired rock. If you were minded to draw up a list of the most heavily used of these adjectives it is unlikely that 'showman' would make an appearance and yet for nigh on an hour and a half tonight that is exactly what he is.
As they appear on stage decked out in matching Adidas track suits and sunglasses, Everett and his four piece band look comically incongruous, as if their places have been taken by extras from the set of the Sopranos. This feeling of being in the presence of impostors is exacerbated by the singer's wise-cracking, jovial (yes, you read that right) persona. At various times throughout the gig 'E' engages in hugs with his band mates, instigates a mock-religious reaffirmation ceremony between himself and his righthand man, guitarist The Chet and exhorts the crowd to chant the name of second guitarist P-Boo and to scream louder between songs because they are used to a certain standard of acclaim. All this from a man who was renowned in the late nineties for refusing to play quieter songs if the crowd wasn't pin-drop silent on the grounds that it was disrespectful.
Whilst this is likely a rehearsed character in the Bowie mould, seeing the light-hearted side of a man many had predicted would have burnt out long ago is worth the admission price alone, and so it is almost a bonus that the songs, which are played straight, even if the band, lined up at the back of the stage, move as if they are in a Blues Brothers tribute act, are so strong.
A menacing, moody, unsettling Bombs Away opens the set, as it does the superb new album, and finds a resolute 'E' singing of having had enough 'of being complacent' and 'being a mouse' declaiming that instead that he 'will be heard'. The slinky groove of Kinda Funny sees 'E' shaking a maraca in a way that only a skinny, middle aged white man dressed in a track suit can. Peach Blossom maintains the prevailing mood of scuzzy guitar riffage before the beautiful Climbing To The Moon, one of only a handful of older songs on the set list, slows the pace down. On The Ropes is a typical Eels song, with its simple arpeggiated guitar figure and lyric that speaks of hard earned optimism. Live New Alphabet has a 70s glam feel to it which is no bad thing. Likewise, Hombre Lobo's Prizefighter and Souljacker's Dog Faced Boy are brilliant slices of unhinged garage rock.
The real surprise of the night comes in the form of an unvarnished, joyous cover of The Small Faces' Itchycoo Park, whose exuberant chorus seems a perfect fit with 'E''s newfound gaiety but the absolute highlight comes at the close when Everett concludes the encore, much to the delight of a capacity crowd, with an inspired, jubilant mash-up of My Beloved Monster and Mr E's Beautiful Blues.
There has always been a black, rueful humour at the heart of Eels' music but as Everett leaves the stage without fanfare you are left to hope that this new cheerfulness has some genuine substance to it because on this evidence 'E' has much more to give.