Eels Live Gig Review at London Barbican Hall

Eels Live Gig Review at London Barbican Hall

by john / Jul 29, 2014 / 0 comments
Friday, 25 July 2014

Mark Oliver Everett was having a good day. “I was awarded the Freedom of the City of London today – what did you do?” he joked with an affectionate Barbican crowd between doleful folk lullabies. Hours earlier, the Eels frontman had become the first modern rock singer to be given the ceremonial honour, after being nominated by several senior City of London officials who happened to be fans.

It might seem an odd decoration to bestow upon a 51-year-old Virginian who hasn’t had a hit single for almost 15 years, and whose stock-in-trade is twisted vignettes about death, pain, mental illness and lost love.

But then, Everett’s devotion to Britain has always been unswerving. His recent 11th album, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, is his best for a decade, and gave him his first entry in the top 10 since 2000 – a feat he’s never come close to achieving in the US. Now he’s officially London's adopted treasure, a freeman of the City, like Nelson Mandela and Luciano Pavarotti before him. He seemed genuinely chuffed. “It’s no surprise Her Majesty the Queen is a big Eels fan,” he said with faux boastfulness, to more laughs.

Her Majesty might have been a convert, had she popped to the Barbican for the night. The show itself was a sumptuous celebration of Everett’s talent. With double bass, timpani, lap steel, trumpet and guitars, Everett and a quartet of instrument-swapping backing Eels picked out songs from across their back catalogue for a serene, intimate 90 minutes of “sweet, soft, sad-sack rock” (as the check-suited Everett called it).

The singer’s gloomy growl provided, as ever, a gruff, deadpan counterpoint to the music’s baroque swoon on songs like Lockdown Hurricane and A Line in the Dirt. In the background, the glow of 100 or more bulbs dimmed and brightened.There were excursions, too, to avoid things becoming one-paced. A Daisy Through Concrete was a jazz-folk jaunt, while I Like Birds had a Fifties rockabilly feel.

No one seemed to want it to end – especially Everett, who, after twice clambering down from the stage to hug crowd members, twice returned for another round of encores. The standing ovations kept coming, and Everett was coaxed into “just one more” half a dozen times. How could he refuse? With freedom comes responsibility, as they say.

Needless to say it was awesome.

Rating out of 11: