Eels – O2 Academy Brixton, London – 2nd July 2018

Photo by Christian Middleton

After taking the stage to the climax of the theme from Rocky, Eels’ set is something close to explosive from the off. They walk on, tearing into covers of ‘Out in the Street’ and ‘Raspberry Beret’. It’s striking how fun it must be to be in Eels.

Mark ‘E’ Everett on-stage is brilliantly charming and eccentric; he comes alive on-stage in a way you can imagine him doing anywhere. He seems incredibly grateful to everyone for turning up and throughout the set he apologises profusely for taking six years for the band to return.

Eels give exactly what you’d expect from them live. At times they’re bags of fun; they’re genuinely funny guys as well. However, this attitude doesn’t dominate the set nor is it the highlight. When they play songs like ‘Daisies Of The Galaxy’ they’re captivating in a way that strikes you to your core. When it feels like E is baring his soul it pulls you in and you slip away from the room you’re standing in. ‘Dirty Girl’ is a personal standout, a song you can get good and lost in.

For a group with 12 albums, they don’t disappoint with their set. They touch on something from every moment of their career. Their sound on stage is brilliant. It’s dirty and scuzzy in all the best ways. It’s a very stereotypical Eels show and, whilst it does exactly what you’d expect, watching them be the band you already know doesn’t detract from the excitement.

Not that the show is without any unexpected moments. E takes the time to engage with the audience to an extent I’ve not seen before. Extended moments of talking pepper the set. However, with Eels, you’re getting to know the mind behind the music and it turns out they’re incredibly bizarre in a wonderful way. At one moment E is presented with a scroll and tie on stage. From where I’m standing what’s being said is incomprehensible, something along the lines of being an honorary citizen of London. All this is taking place in nearly a 30-song set, so it’s certainly a long one.

Among fans it’s divisive when artists start twisting up their songs live, jamming over them, sometimes even completely reinventing them. ‘Novocaine For The Soul’ is one that they’ve taken to a new place live; it’s almost unrecognisable to begin with. It’s a near perfect song which they’ve matured. Many hardcore Eels fans might berate me for calling it their signature song, so let’s just settle for calling it their best known, eh? It misses its climax but they’ve taken a song from the start of their career and brought it to the musical place they are at now, and it does feel like a special moment.

For me, it’s songs like ‘P.S You Rock My World’ and ‘Climbing to the Moon’ which impress the most. Their more upbeat, bluesy numbers lend themselves to jamming and create a great lively atmosphere. When things slow down and get to the gentler and more personal songs, though, the show is truly captivating, creating tender moments between artist and audience.

After two encores they decide to call it a night. It seems as though you have to practically tear the group off stage. E quips, “What you’ve seen tonight is a night of total badassery” which is a fair assessment. For the hardcore fans, tonight would have been the ideal show and, for the less well-versed like myself, this performance let us see just how much Eels deserve their brilliant reputation. They close after two encores with ‘Wonderful Glorious’ and I honestly couldn’t picture any better calling card to leave. Eels are a group that really deserve their legend status and a live band you have to see.

Chris Middleton