Eels, Daughters of Davis at The Royal Concert Hall, 17/6/14

Always aiming to surprise and delight the audience, Eels pull off a remarkably entertaining and memorable performance.

While they are touring in support of The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, Eels have a wealth of material to draw from over their almost-two-decade long career.

Supporting act Daughters of Davis play a set of infectious, earthy nu-folk with a confident delivery that audibly impresses the audience.

The Royal Concert Hall is an advantageous setting for this support act; we are asked to wait until a song has finished before leaving or entering the venue and it is hard to lose focus on what is happening onstage from the rows of seats that are usually occupied by attentive classical music fans.

However this engaging sister act would be equally at home in any midday festival slot and their brand of soul-tinged folk with uplifting vocal harmonies and a cajon providing some acoustic jam-session style rhythm is a great and lively start to the evening.

Suited and booted for the occasion, Eels appear after a short interval to rapturous applause from the mixed-age crowd that has packed The Royal Concert Hall, with only a few vacant seats.

There is a real sense of excitement as the five-piece begin under fairy-light netting and old-fashioned hanging lightbulbs that make up their light show; understated, but always warm and atmospheric, this is a delight throughout the show.

We are treated to a  run-through of 24 songs with plenty of reworked versions showcasing the versatility of Mark Oliver Everett’s writing.

Opening the gig as they do on their most recent LP, the instrumental ‘Where I’m At’ melds into a dreamy cover of Leigh Harline’s ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’.

It’s immediately obvious that these tracks fit perfectly into the concert hall setting and it also becomes clear that Everett plans to run through his more melancholic works in the first half of the show – introducing each track as more of a “bummer” than the last.

Eels are by now famous for their use of instruments outside the typical guitar/bass/drums rock set-up and tonight is no exception.

The use of a glockenspiel and a sliding electric instrument standing to the right of the stage (described by Everett as “the sad machine”)  adds a welcome extra dimension to each song performed, ranging from entertaining lounge music filler to melancholic, modern fairytale compositions.

Everett is constantly engaging in his laid-back, ‘I’m too cool for this anyway’ persona.

He is charming and playful with the crowd despite informing us that the concert hall smells of underwear.

His self-described “sweet, soft, border-rock” picks up later in the evening, when soft piano work on ‘Lockdown Hurricance’, a stand out track on The Cautionary Tales of Mark Everett, gives way to clean guitar riffs and a more lively delivery on ‘A Daisy Through Concrete’.

It’s an obvious but interesting way to approach the problem of sifting through a potentially long set list, and the second half of the show is brighter and livelier before returning to a soft and nostalgic finish.

On ‘I Like Birds’ the band abandon the soft recorded version for a more rockabilly or surf inspired song that works incredibly well and has the crowd dancing in their seats.

Everett sometimes leers like a drunken teen (on ‘Gentleman’s Choice’) and sometimes croons like a sweetheart (‘A Line in the Dirt’) but is always a unique and engaging storyteller with often outlandish lyrics that perfectly capture feelings of sadness or uninhibited joy with equal ease.

Eels showcase their well-earned skill and fluency as musicians and at moments are truly incredible; the instrumental finish on new song ‘Mistakes of My Youth’ is a real high point of the gig.

The band are genuinely delighted to be here and Everett proves this, introducing each performer (Peebo, Upright Al, Chet and Knuckles) who respond with gusto, before he runs into the crowd for hugs at the end of ‘Where I’m Going’.

It’s difficult not to be delighted watching Eels perform their brand of soft, emotional rock, melancholic and euphoric in equal measure.

By the end of the evening the audience are loud and responsive, a heckler (surely a rarity in this venue) is dealt with remarkably well by Everett, who childishly leers back, and we are treated to two encores before Everett finally moves quickly offstage, followed by the band.

Closing the night by covering Elvis’ ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ followed by ‘Turn on Your Radio’ (Nilsson), Eels brings the saccharin-sweet atmosphere, established at the start of the set, around full circle.

A convincing showcase of their newest songs and a welcome revival of old hits in the perfect setting.

With the charismatic Mark Oliver Everett backed by a fantastic, versatile group; this is Eels at their finest.

More Photos

Words: Tom Deering
Photos: Stewart Fullerton

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