“I’m pumped with steroids and full of rock,” hollered Mark Everett midway through this show. He was certainly behaving like a man who was on something; previous appearances from Everett’s band – there is no permanent line-up, though guitarist “The Chet” has been with him for 10 years – have been emotionally charged but often harrowing affairs. Here, though, all was brimming with life and energy, as if Everett finds himself at the apex of a bipolar episode: he howled like a wolf, hugged his bandmates in an orgy of man-love and generally disported himself with the demeanour of someone who has been granted a new lease of life.
And then there were the tracksuits. If you’ve seen the Wes Anderson film The Royal Tenenbaums, you’ll instantly recognise this picture: each member of the five-strong ensemble wore identical black vintage-style Adidas tracksuits and trainers, plus shades. Suddenly making rock music had become an Olympic sport.
Musically these Eels were stripped down, raw and dirty; previous incarnations have seen Everett employ gentle and esoteric instruments such as the celesta and the saw, but here it was just drums, bass and guitars, guitars, guitars. Plus, of course, Everett’s sandblasted voice. The result was gritty, textured and alive.
Songs were drawn chiefly from the recent album Wonderful, Glorious (we’re beginning to get the picture, Mr Everett), and the show opened with three crackers therefrom – “Bombs Away”, “Kinda Fuzzy” and “Open My Present” – all with walloping choruses and churning bluesy guitars. Then came the first of two clever Anglophile cover versions, Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”, written by Peter Green, a damaged man in whom Everett perhaps sees a kindred spirit. The second, later, was the Small Faces hit, “Itchycoo Park”: more exuberance. Both sat naturally in the scheme of things.
For a while the mood mellowed with a clutch of countryish tunes, including the Doobiefied “On the Ropes”, but chiefly this show was a walk on the loud side of Eels: “Peach Blossom” had a power-drill riff, while an encore exhilaratingly mashed up “Mr E’s Beautiful Blues” with “My Beloved Monster”.
Finally, continuing an old Eels tradition of playing late, late encores (a few years ago Everett and the band came back on stage to a half-empty hall in their pyjamas), they returned after most of the crowd had gone home to play a brace of tunes while roadies went about their business around them. After which the band all probably went for a long run round the streets of Brixton.