Photographs and Review by John Bentley

Eels @ O2 Birmingham 30-3-13

Critically acclaimed Eels have been around for a good while and have made ten studio albums. Mark ‘E’ Everett is essentially ‘the Eels’, but he now has a long lasting and musically accomplished band, who deliver tight (but thoughtful) garage rock. The subject matter for Eels songs has sometimes been pretty heavy (like family deaths and mental disorder). However, with current line-up, the mood has definitely lightened and E seems as happy as he can be with the world, at least for the present.

Eels @ O2 Birmingham 30-3-13

First I need to describe the set-up for tonight’s gig. At the right front of the stage is what E describes as the ‘lead singer riser’. There is a drum kit on a riser to the left front and a third riser at the back for the guitarists and bass player. E sports a tracksuit, and as usual comes with beard and dark glasses. The four band members are similarly attired, as ‘mini-E’s’. One assumes their contract requires them to grow beards and wear sunglasses. However, a band hierarchy is imposed, as only E gets to wear a cloth cap.

Distorted guitar and drum beat open the set, as Eels launch into ‘Bombs Away’, a stand out track from the new album ‘Wonderful, Glorious’. I saw Eels at Wolverhampton maybe ten years ago, but tonight is very different. Then, I seem to remember, E spent much of his time seated rather studiously behind a keyboard. But tonight we are presented with something very different, a full-on guitar rock band assault, with E as a real extrovert showman. Much of the set comes from the new album. Previous albums ‘Souljacker’ and ‘Hombre Lobo’ also feature prominently, with the band delivering old favourites from those records like the catchy ‘Prizefighter’ (which includes a guitar riff obviously nicked from Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’), ‘Tremendous Dynamite’ and (a very sonic version of) ‘Souljacker Part 1’.

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Four songs in and we get an interesting cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’. While its delivery is similar in style to the original, the band really make it their own, as if E himself had written it. Later in the set is another great cover and not one I would have expected Eels to do. ‘Itchycoo Park’, originally by The Small Faces, but again somehow perfectly fitted to Eels. We even get psychedelic guitar parts and phased vocals and the audience join in singing “it’s all too beautiful”. Brilliant!

Eels @ O2 Birmingham 30-3-13

The band seems to be having fun tonight and E seems inspirationally crazed! In a very unconventional way he introduces the band mid-way through. He invites guitarist The Chet onto the lead singer’s riser to renew his rock-vows. “Do you, The Chet, take E to be your lead singer?” “I do”, Chet replies and they exchange a not-so secret handshake. Meanwhile drummer Knuckles gets to sing a bit of Bette Midler’s ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ and there follows a brief jam, ‘Go Knuckles!’ which finishes with a mini drum solo. Later on, at E’s request, the band gathers together on the lead singer’s riser for a group hug. All great fun, but the band remains a tight and accomplished musical outfit throughout. There is some great guitar duelling through the evening, for example on ‘I’m Your Brave Little Soldier’, from the new album.

Eels @ O2 Birmingham 30-3-13

There are only a few visits to early albums, including a great rendition of the touching ‘Climbing to the Moon’ and a good grinding version of ‘Dog Faced Boy’. For the encore we get a cleverly interwoven combination of two early songs ‘My Beloved Monster’ (as featured in the film ‘Shrek’) and ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’. As with the earlier covers, this demonstrates how E is a great musical arranger. The band really subvert the usual encore protocol. As they return for the first encore, E announces that the show should have ended, but that the band has defied convention and returned for one more song. Ho! Ho! After three encore songs Eels leave the stage, The Small Faces ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon’ plays over the sound system and show is over. Or is it? Half the audience have left and the house lights are up. A false ending! Suddenly the band return, amid mock protests from a cloth capped roadie who is packing up equipment. We get a reprise of the ‘Go Knuckles, Go Eels’ lunacy, to the great enjoyment of the remaining crowd. Then it really has finished. It’s been a fun evening and we’ve heard some terrific music.

Nicole Atkins @ O2 Birmingham 30-3-13

Excellent support tonight is provided by Nicole Atkins, a singer-songwriter from New Jersey, USA. It was difficult to listen to the words of her songs, as large numbers of people chatted loudly throughout, but she really has a beautiful voice with an amazing vocal range. She sounds like Stevie Nicks combined with Roy Orbison and, indeed, she performs a great version of Roy’s ‘Crying’.

Eels setlist: Bombs Away; Kinda Fuzzy; Dog Faced Boy; Oh Well; Tremendous Dynamite; Climbing to the Moon; On the Ropes; Peach Blossom; Prizefighter; The Turnaround; New Alphabet; Fresh Feeling; The Sound of Fear; Wind Beneath My Wings / Go Knuckles; Itchycoo Park; Souljacker Part 1; Wonderful, Glorious. Encore (1): I’m Your Brave Little Soldier; My Beloved Monster / Mr E’s Beautiful Blues. Encore (2): Go Eels / Go Knuckles.

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