Brighton Dome, 06/07/2011
Driving home from the gig I am pulled over by a policeman. The conversation goes like this:
“You were over the speed limit and your front headlight is out.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know Brighton very well and I’ve just been to the most amazing gig and I was reliving it in my head, I may have been a tiny bit distracted.”
“Can I see your license?”
He goes away, checks my license and comes back.
“So who was it that you saw?”
“Eels. They were completely fantastic, it was one of the best gigs of my life.”
He looks confused and seems unfamiliar with the band. So, very helpfully and before I can really think it through, I start singing (yes, SINGING) to him.
“Novocai-iiiiiiiiiine for the soul……..before I sputter out.”
There’s a pause.
“I’m going to have to breathalyse you.”
The breath test is zero. I haven’t touched a drop of booze the whole day, I’m just high on the music and the buzz of post-gig euphoria.
The policeman looks at me and smirks slightly. My heart races. I’ve had a clean license for more than 20 years and I like it that way.
“Get your headlight fixed and don’t break the speed limit.”
He walks back to his patrol car and I breathe a big sigh of relief.
I drive the rest of the two-hour journey home at 5mph under the speed limit, just to be sure.
And the gig that had made such an impression on me?
It’s always wise to expect the unexpected at an Eels show and tonight is no exception. The opening act is a juggler. He starts off well and then drops the ball. Unfortunately that’s not a euphemism, he then goes on to drop several more, along with clubs, rings and diabolos. But the audience is good-humoured and plays along with his attempts to get them cheering him and it’s all a lot of fun.
Second support Jesca Hoop tells the audience that they’re her favourite of the whole tour so far, which may be what she says every night but it goes down well, and her combination of deceptively complicated songs and tales about her family and Mormon upbringing are a pleasure to behold.
Armed only with her distinctive voice, an acoustic guitar and an occasional backing vocalist, she weaves her stories with a fascinating mix of delicacy and conviction.
And then it’s time to rock.
This tour sees Eels leader Mark Oliver Everett in fine form, leading an impressively tight band of musical cohorts, most of whom were also in last year’s line-up. This time around, they are augmented by a two-man horn section, introduced by Everett as The Snatch Brothers.
Everett is in fine voice and particularly on the Hombre Lobo tracks such as Prizefighter, Tremendous Dynamite and Fresh Blood, where every howl, shriek and roar is thrilling stuff. But his vocals are equally as affecting on soul-baring slower songs such as That Look You Give That Guy and a particularly stunning version of the beautiful Climbing to the Moon.
I stand still and become absolutely absorbed in those more gentle moments but for the most part I’m mildly embarrassed to notice that I’m the only person in my immediate vicinity to be dancing like crazy to the rest of the setlist. But I can’t help it and I find it odd that so many of the audience stay so still when the band in front of them is seriously rocking out.
There’s an enthusiastic response to each song and the calls for encores are animated enough but when a band is on top form like this and looking like they’re having an awful lot of fun, it seems strange that the audience barely reflects that.
Everett changes guitars after most songs and limits his chat to exclamations such as “Marvellous!” and “This is fun!” until the band introductions and that’s a bit of a shame because when he speaks to the audience, he’s hugely entertaining, especially when sharing drummer Knuckles’ three favourite things (eating fish and chips, watching your local sports team and playing the drums while simultaneously singing a song about himself).
A lot of the songs are played in a similar arrangement to the way they appear on the albums and that’s a bit of a rarity for a band that often changes them substantially in live versions. The exceptions to this are a swampy, bluesy, positively filthy version of This Is Where It Gets Good and a punked-up storm-through of I Like Birds.
There are two encores, the first with soft but stirring versions of It’s a Motherfucker and PS You Rock My World and the second leaving everyone on a high as the stage is bathed in red for a ferocious Fresh Blood and then Everett puts aside his guitar and shows he’s got some moves with a rousing gospel-tinged Looking Up to end the show on a high.
This is fabulous, life-affirming stuff and it’s hard to believe that Everett isn’t one of the biggest stars in the world because performances and musicianship of this quality are becoming an increasing rarity, often adrift in a sea of manufactured soft-porn puppet pop and mediocre strum-along snorefests.
But this was most definitely the real deal and an experience to treasure.
I still have the straw that I blew into for the breath test. It’s a curious gig souvenir, but it’s one I’ll be keeping.