Monday, 4 August 2014

Eels at The Sage, Gateshead - review by Sir Terrence Kelly, OBE

"UNEASY listening" is as good a way as any to describe the music of American band Eels.

The line came from the band's lead singer and songwriter, Mark Oliver Everett, during a brilliant performance at The Sage.

Much funnier in person than his dark albums and melancholic material would suggest, Everett (normally abbreviated to "E") is a dry, droll, ironic writer from Virginia.

The son of a famous quantum physicist, E drew on familial heartache for his early albums, but his Tyneside show suggested he's come to terms with much of his troubled past and is more than willing to lighten up.

While such early gems as My Beloved Monster, A Line in the Dirt and A Daisy Through Concrete were given their rightful place, Eels spiced up its back catalogue with some equally strong songs from the most recent album, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, notably Mistakes of My Youth, Gentlemen's Choice and Lockdown Hurricane.

E joked that since Saturday's concert was the 52nd out of a 53-gig tour, he and his band were simply "phoning in" their performance.

Far from it. In fact, Eels gave a bravura demonstration in musicianship, band members swapping between trumpet, vibes, keyboards, guitar, drums, double bass and steel guitar with equal proficiency.

There were as many jazz inflections to the music as rock, with Eels swinging like the Count Basie Orchestra on I Like Birds, while equally able to bring real tenderness to That Look You Gave That Guy.

The Disney classic, When You Wish Upon a Star, was given a lugubrious makeover, while E sang with real emotion on Elvis' Can't Help Falling in Love.

Although I could have done without some of the audience interaction, Eels regained control to deliver some superb encores, including a sensitive reading of Nilsson's Turn On Your Radio.

All in all, a night to remember.

Terry Kelly

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