San Francisco – Great American Music Hall

The last time [a]Eels[/a] played in San Francisco was the day singer [b]E[/b]'s sister committed suicide...

The last time [a]Eels[/a] played in San Francisco was the day singer E‘s sister committed suicide. On the next tour, their Frisco gig was cancelled due to his mother’s death. “It is time,” E announces to the sold out Music Hall, “to end this Kennedy-like curse.”

On the stunning ‘Electro-Shock Blues’ album, E talked himself through his personal tragedies with black humour and startling irreverence. He’s feeling better now, thanks, as this year’s cheerier ‘Daisies Of The Galaxy’ attests. ‘Grace Kelly Blues’ is the first of tonight’s ten songs from ‘Daisies’ – upbeat affirmations of life with god-bothering tunes to match. All tinged with just that little bit of blackness.

The only thing black about his band is the drummer’s habit. Led by the indie multi-instrumentalist and former 4AD princess, Lisa Germano, they seem to have got lost on the way to the Fresher’s Ball. Lisa is picking up and putting down instruments like Roy Castle on crack. There are two different sizes of triangle. The trombonist has a comedy turban and a tendency to whip out his melodica at the slightest provocation. Drummer Butch is, of course, dressed as a nun.

But surely the songs are so good, they don’t need all that nonsense. Luckily, this lot know what they are doing. Call it the [a]Eels[/a] ethos if you like but E’s touring band have that same crucial quality as his songwriting and Dust Brother Michael Simpson‘s production – they know what to leave out. ‘Packing Blankets’ is railroad hobo-era Woody Guthrie, with the clearest, cleanest acoustic guitar you ever darn heard. A potentially disastrous encore cover of James Carr‘s (made popular by Percy Sledge) classic ‘Dark End Of The Street’ is pulled off with a piano and similar restraint.

Yes, despite the genre-hopping camouflage, and the odd novelty (‘Novocaine for the Soul ‘, the curious new single choice ‘Flyswatter’), these are folk songs. And contrary to popular belief, some folk songs do have happy endings. ‘Bring me my bongos’, E commands before heating up the rousing ‘Hospital Food’. The curse, it seems, is over.