Posted by Velvette Ravelle.
Reviewed on 1st January 2004.
Live at The Refectory on Wednesday, 24th October 2001
Student feeding-ground by day, 'The Refectory' at Leeds University Union may not seem like the obvious location for a night of top musical entertainment, but I was certainly impressed by the sound and light show at the excellent Placebo gig here this time last year.
Tonight, after arriving early enough to catch the support, we were disappointed to find that the £14.50 (with booking fee) ticket price did not actually entitle us to a first band. Instead, the opening act was a spoken-word performance by a guy who looked like he may have wandered off the street and accidentally found his way on stage. I can only presume that his ranting carried some sort of political message, although we weren't tempted to venture near enough to find out.
Thankfully, the real show began soon enough. The band trooped onstage to a crowd below capacity but clearly appreciative. Drummer Butch sported a big white cowboy hat, while the star of the show - E himself - was resplendent in David-Bellamy-style beard and black woollen hat. I've always found the Eels frontman somewhat sexy in a creative-yet-geeky kind of way, and tonight, despite the strange attire, the appeal was definitely still there. Add to that the strength of his songs - sometimes weird, often wonderful - his undeniable musical talent, and his distinctive vocals (which were on top form tonight), and there's no doubt that you have the makings of a true rock star, if perhaps not in the conventional sense. Displaying his diversity tonight by switching from electric piano, to bass, to guitar and back again, E was an intriguing focal point.
The set began with a couple of songs I didn't recognise - possibly covers, or else tracks from the band's second album (which I haven't heard) 'Electro-Shock Blues'? These were closely followed by a fantastically sinister cover of Missy Elliot's 'Get Your Freak On' - the first example of the band's fine sense of humour (or second if you count Butch's cowboy hat). The new album received a generous airing during the early part of the set, with the band blasting through opening track 'Dog Faced Boy' (dirty grunge-rock - yeah!), title-track and single 'Souljacker (part I)', 'Bus Stop Boxer', and the ever-so-slightly crazy 'That's Not Really Funny' (which I found to be one of the most instantly-likeable tracks off the album). Slipped in amongst the new songs was a rocked-out version of 'My Beloved Monster' - highly enjoyable but over in a flash. Another new one - 'Woman Driving, Man Crying' (certainly true when I'm at the wheel) preceded a beautifully delivered (if slightly over-stretched) 'Not Ready Yet', rightly greeted by a cheer from the audience. Next up was 'Fresh Feeling', my favourite of the new tracks, delivered tonight in a more-chilled-out fashion than on the album. This has to be a clear contender for feel-good song of the year, along with Weezer's 'Island In The Sun' - although the less said about that band the better after their latest cancellation of British dates including Friday's Manchester gig (grrrrr!).
Representing a range of ages and musical tastes judging by the t-shirts on show, the audience were considerably restrained in their behaviour, leading E to observe wryly: "Oh - so you're a 'clapping' audience!" To be fair, the pace of the set never really created optimum conditions for active crowd participation - this was more a performance to stand back and enjoy.
As the band eased into 'Souljacker part II', I eased into the queue for the toilet (funny how lager seems to go down so much more quickly when served in plastic cups). On my return I was disappointed to find that I'd missed most of 'I Like Birds', which boasts one of my all-time favourite lyrics: "It's alright if you act like a turd... cause I like birds." This was one of the few tracks from last year's 'Daisies of The Galaxy' album which featured in tonight's set, another being the delicately-titled ballad 'It's A Motherfucker'. Like I said, fine sense of humour.
The set drew to a close with what turned out to be a series of encores. These included a tongue-in-cheek ode to Butch by E ("Have you noticed how every band has a bald member?") which culminated in the drummer taking over vocal duties - a popular moment with some of the audience, although it lost our attention for a while. The band's inclusion of the low-key 'I Write The B Sides' during the encores was an example of the unconventional selection process displayed in their set list (if indeed they were following one). Several of their best-known tracks were also conspicuous in their absence. Although they included the upbeat single 'Mr E's Beautiful Blues' ("Goddamn right it's a beautiful day"), there was no 'Susan's House', 'Your Lucky Day In Hell', 'Novocaine For The Soul', or 'Flyswatter' - a track I would have loved to see live for its sheer atmospheric spookiness.
However, Eels are clearly not a band to follow convention, and in a way their individuality and unpredictability made up for these omissions. We were also rewarded for our patience when, several minutes after the main lights had gone on and most of the audience had dispersed, the band wandered back on stage to finish with 'Friendly Ghost' from the new album.
Goddamn right, it was a beautiful night.