Eels at Sage, Gateshead on 25th July 2014

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Before the show I was told tales of how seeing Eels was like the first time, every time. You could never predict quite what they were going to do. Previous shows had been dark and intimidating or Adidas cloaked rock shows. I have never seen Eels live, in fact I’ve kind of slipped out of touch with them over the last few years! So this was genuinely my first time.

With this in mind, I considered myself a blank sheet, ready to accept whatever they were going to throw at me. Although when I saw the range of instruments on stage, including timpani drums, tubular bells, lap steel guitar and more, I knew I was going to love it.

E delivered bummer after bummer (his words not mine) but this was an audience you clearly loved the lonely, downbeat, desperate and, maybe even, mawkish songs that they do so well. Uneasy listening as E describes it. The arrangements were beautiful, gliding and swelling beneath with fractured and torn voice. He sounds like he should be struggling yet, somehow, he commands an awesome range.

E’s banter is spot on, he clearly knows his audience very well although he didn’t seem so keen on hollering during the some of the quitter songs ( I agree). During some of this banter E expertly leaps on the realization that it was Saturday night and they were bringing everybody down (a Tuesday set, apparently) so he shifted it up a gear and rocked out playing some of the classic crowd pleasers.

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I don’t usually give much consideration to things such as lighting (I would usually think of it as a necessity for being able to see the band) but the lighting was fantastic. To look at, it was only a backdrop of incandescent light bulbs and a few hanging lights similar but the way they used was superb. Taking the room from pitch black with a lone spotlight to lighting up the whole of Hall 1, really added to the dramatic impact of the music.

The only thing I think would have made the evening better for me, would have been to have been up to date with what Eels had been doing over the last few years. Hence why I will be immersing myself in the new album, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, and the rest of their back catalogue, ready for the next time they’re in town.

The support act, Daughters of Davis, were good. Fantastic musicians (their version of Billie Jean really showed off the guitar skills) and amazing voices. However, the songs and banter were all very upper-middle-class-teenage-girl oriented, which I don’t think was quite right to connect with an Eels audience. Strangely, despite being sisters, I didn’t feel that their voices matched either, not like Secret Sisters or First Aid Kit. One girl had an earthly blues-soul tone (which I loved) while the other had a top range pop-R’n’B voice that I felt sang over the softer voice. Maybe others like the conflicting mix. I would like to hear some more ‘matured’ songs based upon some real life experiences and common grounds which can engage me as a listener.

Reviewer: Chris Whiting
Photographer: Jill O’Donnell

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