Everett is a truly unique individual whose personal experience cannot be imitated by any means.
After last year’s hollering rock show at the O2 Academy, Eels returned to Bristol with a mock-serious ‘Cautionary Tales’ show at Colston Hall, dubbed by frontman Mark Oliver Everett (or E to most) as an evening of “uneasy listening”. “Are you ready to rock?” E teasingly questions the audience, to meet with a rowdy reception of applause and cheers; well, there won’t be any of that. Even “soft rock” is out of the question.
Support on the night came from sister duo Daughters of Davis. The duo belted out a selection of songs in a style popularised by acts such as First Aid Kit or Stealing Sheep; their vocals soft and soulful, placing the audience in a sunkissed reverie before the dark clouds of Eels drew in. Their enthusiasm could not be knocked either, as both were bubbly, and keen to make some new fans. The sisters also provoked an idea for a new drinking game: down a shot every time they mention their van.
When Eels took to the stage, the preamble was kept to a simple ‘Good Evening’ before getting straight to the music. E’s sly but plainspoken wit is paramount to the show. He is quick to point slight errors in opening songs of the set – renditions from the latest LP and a cover of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ – and marks them as failures, prompting reviewers to take note that 51 shows into the tour, he still can’t get it right. A pitch-perfect rendition of ‘Tomorrow Morning’ followed and was thankfully marked as a triumph. After a poor beginning, Eels are back on form, although frankly they always were, but showmanship is key.
At this point it was a pleasing contrast to see Eels in this stripped-back way, with the somewhat lacklustre recordings of recent years given a surprising vitality in the live setting. Even the most die-hard Eels fan must admit ‘End Times’ was far from their greatest endeavour, yet ‘Mansions of Los Feliz’ strikes a clear chord with the audience; simply beautiful.
Mid-set, E turns to his bandmates – Honest “Upright” Al on bass, The Chet on the sad machine (keys), Knuckles manning the yard sale (an impressive percussive selection), and P-Boo on trumpet – asking what day it is, and in pantomimic fashion, the audience collectively cheered out “Friday”. E then admitted they’d been playing their “Monday show” all along, and decided upon a quick turnaround to give the ladies and gentlemen a Friday show. Here, familiars from albums past crept into the set. It was a genuine treat to hear songs from 1999’s ‘Daisies of the Galaxy’ – ‘I Like Birds’, ‘A Daisy Through Concrete’, ‘It’s A Motherfucker’ and ‘Grace Kelly Blues’ – and a token gesture from ‘Beautiful Freak’; the oft-played, Shrek-inducing ‘My Beloved Monster’.
Towards the end of the set, the band play two more selections from the latest LP; ‘Mistakes of My Youth’ and ‘Where I’m Going’. Certainly with regards to the former, these are the best Eels have produced in recent years. It’s an honest reflection on the life of the 51 year old Everett, whose songs often traverse the murky depths of human emotion, yet still come up bearing fruit. Two encores followed, featuring a cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, and the lingering title track from ‘Daisies of the Galaxy’, which made for one of the evening’s glorious highlights.
Overall, I’d hazard to say the show was better than their previous. The delicate emotional strings Everett and the band pluck resonate deeply with the audience, almost to the point of tears; it was a deeply affecting performance, and substantially more real than the band’s rockier side (as entertaining as that is). But what makes Eels particularly special is Everett himself; a truly unique individual whose personal experience cannot be imitated by any means. Remove Everett from the equation, and there’s no way Eels could enjoy the success they have done. Yet success wasn’t easy, and it’s still something they are extremely grateful to their fans for. For sticking by them, through thick and thin, whatever the weather.
Check out ‘Mistakes Of My Youth’ right here: