Eels – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Wed 18 Jun 2014
Mark Oliver Everett and co take shots at a Vegas-style performance, with mixed results
There’s something a bit off about tonight’s performance from Eels (who, if you’re not already familiar with them, are aptly described by frontman Mark Oliver Everett as ‘sweet, soft bummer rock’). The rough-edged, smiling-on-the-outside, forlorn bittersweetness of their sound has undergone a severe polishing: Everett is suited and booted along with the rest of his band, who he introduces with names like ‘Knuckles’ and ‘The Chet’; the popular hits of yesteryear are given upbeat makeovers (the quirky ‘Birds’ is reimagined as a surf-rock boogie number; grungy ‘My Beloved Monster’ is now a rock and roll crooner); and even Everett’s stage banter feels rehearsed, easily copied and pasted between tour venues (‘Hello... where is this again?’; ‘We’re gonna play some deep cuts – that’s what they call stuff that isn’t a hit’). The whole charade comes across as a Vegas-lite Eels facsimile, something underlined by the sit-down-and-be-entertained setting of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (as opposed to a more traditional stand-up-and-be-involved rock venue).
At least, that’s the first impression. When that floorshow professionalism is undercut by Everett’s introverted lyrics of self-harm and heartbreak, you realise it’s the medium that’s being compromised, not the musician. The set is top-and-tailed by a pair of none-more-mainstream cover versions, but in Everett’s hands, 'When You Wish Upon a Star' from Disney’s Pinocchio becomes a plaintive lament, while his near-solo rendition of Presley’s 'I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You' is so affecting, even The Chet emerges clapping from the wings. In between, the stinging, titular line from piano ballad ‘It’s a Motherfucker’ still manages to elicit a gasp from audience members, while the opening lyric from ‘A Line in the Dirt’, about Everett’s sister’s suicide (‘She locked herself into the bathroom again / so I am pissing in the yard’), is as raw and bleakly humorous as ever.
For all that, the show is much more satisfying when Everett ditches the facade entirely, barking at an overly-loud and incomprehensible audience member, or wading into the crowd for hugs instead of indulging in an encore break. These genuine interactions hit home a lot more effectively than any faux-pastiche posturing; you can’t help feeling it might’ve been a better gig if they’d done that all along.