Hammersmith Apollo, London, 14 July, 2000
The band file onto the ethereally lit stage, one by one. The nun picks up a flute, the old Etonian professor steadies his double bass, there's a bishop playing the saxophone and an elfin violinist at the front?. Thus the latest incarnation of the Eels introduce themselves. They launch into an instrumental reprise of many of the Eels former "hits" - a snatch of 'Beautiful Freak', a sample of 'Holiday Lunch' - and I begin to realise why it makes sense to see the Eels in a theatre. Each of these musicians is a character, garbed in the music they play.
To rapturous applause, Mr E himself takes the stage. He is escorted by a burly bouncer, in the manner of self-confessed divas like Nina Simone, and he settles into his piano with his back to the now bemused audience. Pause. And to the lilt of tinkling piano, he launches straight into Grace Kelly Blues from the wonderful'Daisies In The Galaxy'. Like many of the hip-hop, grungy, jazzy, chamber music with a morbid twist, tunes on this album, the melodies can well tears in your eyes. Yet the arrangement makes you grin like an idiot. He has a wonderful voice that seems to strain for every note, yet tinkles the hairs on the back of my neck.
E has two positions - either caressing or slamming his piano, or leaning into his microphone strumming his guitar or mandolin. Each of his poignant 3-minute masterpieces are presented with clarity, textured with a bewildering array of flute, trombone, triangle, bongos? It is a gorgeous experience, with Lisa Germano especially weaving magic on violin, mandolin and keyboard, her vivid voice used on Susan's House and others. The band even launch into the odd protracted jazz work-out, particularly on latest single, Flyswatter. The line "If you think you're gonna be spared, you're wrong" is threateningly intoned. This ain't Steps, you know.
'Novacaine For The Soul' is a wonderful song, performed with majestic calm, understated and powerful. Each intro conjured images of love-lost or gained?. Only E could end a song of melancholic beauty recalling an afternoon where he lay in his lover's arms with the riposte "I hate you... (pause) ...f**ker." Dramatic lighting of green and gold sheathed the theatre with E's shadow playing on the wall.
Two encores and the audience started to filter out, only for the band to launch into an impromptu performance of Mr E's 'Beautiful Day'. And I got to do what I had been wanting for the past two hours - boogie like a b*stard!! Amidst the comical banter, drum solos and speeches, why it even looked like the terminally miserable E was enjoying himself as much as us. Maybe he'll have a worse time next time.