In a world gone mad, E's crew appear to have made the wise decision to go just that little bit madder...
The first thing you notice about Eels is that all three of them are dressed as characters straight out of the last chance saloon. The second thing you notice, however, is that these obviously dedicated followers of spaghetti western fashion have eschewed any blatant rawk-tinged threads (see spurs, pistols, Bon Jovi’s dusty bollocks) in favour of the mild-mannered banker look. They have waistcoats. They have suits. They have brought their own bloody hatstand with them.
Welcome, then, to the mild, mild West. A territory where we find the craftily named E sitting at his organ saying, “How does this song go again? Oh yeah, I got it!” Towards the end of the show he will say, “We’re going to go now to leave you to get on with the rest of your lives,” and everyone will boo. “What? Are your lives really that bad?” “YES!” is the resounding chorus from the audience.
Years and years ago there used to be a lethal American organisation called the Mickey Mouse Club, whose big fat communal theme tune rambled along the lines of “[I]Emm-Eye-See/Cay-Eee-Why/Why? Because we love you![/I]”. Eels are that sticky, sickly-sweet Disney dream gone horribly wrong: a band apparently so offended by intrusive crowd sing-alongs in the past they have chosen to play an all-seated venue to calm the rabble; a group whose obsession with funerals, disease, narcotics and just generally, like, death is now bordering on the freaky; an outfit who sing “[I]Yesterday was suckin’ and tomorrow’s looking bad/Who knew that today was the only thing I had?[/I]” in ‘Hospital Food’, and then end the song by flashing a large electric ‘APPLAUSE’ sign on and off.
See, you get a lot of comical change from your miserable Eels dollar. In a world gone mad, E’s crew appear to have made the wise decision to go just that little bit madder. The excellent new ‘Electro-Shock Blues’ album is an absolutely ghastly, grey-fleshed experience. The left-field post-Beck sensibilities of ‘Beautiful Freak’ are now severely outweighed by a ragged glory on the guitar front, to such an extent that the once-delicate ‘Novocaine For The Soul’ is now a full-on Velvets-style hoedown. All things being relative, obviously.
More pertinently, Eels want us to think they’re getting sicker, more screwed up, yet they dismally fail to keep the lid on all that good-time bonhomie. They flirt with their Big Daddy of a roadie. Their three-cornered musical creation still ebbs and rolls with chaotic enthusiasm. And, come the close, they scamper back on for a final cheeky encore as half the crowd is streaming out towards the Thames. They then – get this! – sign autographs from the edge of the stage before scampering back into the Festival Hall’s welcoming, quite probably cancer-ridden, bowels.
“Rock music is good, no?” asks the man E at one extremely salient point. Yup.