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- Eels »
Before we begin properly, a detour, a divergence from the advertised programming: before slipping down my seat at the Royal Festival Hall, I’m buzzing around town like that proverbial blue-arsed fly, flitting from meeting to meeting with nary a solitary bite, M&Ms notwithstanding, to offset the booze taken aboard along the way. Bad Times, potentially. I’m not in the perfect mindset for An Evening With Mr E and his beautiful blues. I know how this music can affect me – it has before, and tonight I’m more vulnerable than ever. There’s a lump before even crossing the Hungerford.
The Eels lynchpin takes to the stage as I do my front-row seat (many another venue, brilliant; here, one sore neck come a half-hour in); the house lights down, I’m fumbling past attendees already in the mood, flashing the dim light from my mobile phone about to find the allotted slot. Of course, it’s the only vacant space. In, down, silence. Massive applause. I can almost reach out and touch E from here. I can rock my eyeballs to the very edges of their sockets and still he is all I see. Such intimacy in such a vast space is intimidating for someone who’s a) a big Eels fan and b) piddled. I feel a prickle of nervousness – the stage lights cast long shadows, occasionally running across my own sunken frame. ‘A Magic World’ followed by ‘It’s a Motherfucker’. Striking at the very outset, and I’m bundled into an individual’s world cracked about its borders by too much heartache for any selection of songs to every truly articulate.
E is accompanied only by Jeffrey Lyster, a.k.a. ‘The Chet’, who engages our host in a game of instrument swapsies, dashing from drum kit to piano while his collaborator steps in to fill each freshly unmanned position. There’re laughs to be had when one passes over to the other without skipping a beat, best they can anyway; less improvisation than inspired transitioning, these exchanges make for the most visually interesting aspect of this evening’s set. But few are here for this spectacle – the songs aired require no flashy moves to accentuate their acutely moving sparsity and truly devastating emotional impact.
The first instance of this impression making its mark on your correspondent is ‘Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor’. Like many cuts from Eels’ second LP proper Electro-Shock Blues, it’s a song that immediately triggers memories incomparable of pain to the subject matter revealed through said arrangements, but that nevertheless has one recalling events soured, even through retrospective rose tints. The lump thickens, and I suddenly wish I’d stopped at the bar on my dash upstairs, risking the wrath of the audience for the comfort of having something to sooth the rising discomfort from within. That this offering is followed immediately by ‘Climbing To The Moon’, one of my very favourite songs ever regardless of maker, has me this close to blubbing. Light relief’s really required.
And it comes, through the interaction between the on-stage pair – jovial throughout, playful of banter – and repeat references to a ‘Queen impersonator’ in the Royal Box – E had invited The Queen to attend but she couldn’t make it, surprisingly; a letter from Buckingham Palace is read aloud for all to enjoy. We also enjoy passages from E’s recently published, and well-received, Things The Grandchildren Should Know tome. I’m yet to read the book, but look forward to based on the comedy/tragedy tone of these select readings.
The highlights, song wise, are expectedly numerous and varied – a boisterous rendering of ‘Novocaine For The Soul’ is rapturously welcomed, as is a cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Good Times, Bad Times’, but it’s the moments of intense introspection that have these feelings scorched by wildfire: ‘In The Yard, Behind The Church’ is a delight, likewise ‘Somebody Loves You’. I feel the swelling build as the climax nears, and without the confidence to meet the flood face on, I slip out of the side doors and into the night two songs before the final curtain down.
Relieved to be in control again, the 68 weaves a merry path homewards. The crushing next-day news: E culminated proceedings with ‘PS You Rock My World’, my favourite Eels song of all time. However, circumstances being what they were I would have probably beaten a retreat four bars in – such a powerful song should never be unleashed upon someone so frail from work-related shenanigans. Better to have missed out this time around than have been crushed under the weight of memories best left in my university days.
These fantastic songs can fly free regardless of day, month or year; but associated actions and reactions, leave ‘em be.
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