“I've got enough fight left inside this tired heart / to win this one and walk out on my feet,” rallies Mark ‘E’ Everett amidst the uncharacteristically reflective “On the Ropes”, a song which steps back from the usual pace of his customary alt.blues style. Lifted from his (E essentially is Eels) acclaimed new album Wonderful, Glorious, the song is just one perfect crystallisation of his enduring ability to cut straight to simple emotional truths. At the same time it’s a lyrical manifestation of the keen survivor’s instinct he’s shown to get through the well-documented trials of his life to this point.
With the bearded E and the other four members of his band dressed in matching blue and white-piped tracksuits and a towering backing curtain behind them lighting up in sunset orange and red, it was a show which pushed restrained playfulness and a sense of often qualified good cheer. “Prizefighter” was a huge highlight, a ragged, euphoric barroom guitar rattle with the momentum of a freight train which emphasised “I’ll break through any wall / just give me a call,” while the warmth of “Fresh Feeling” and the raw psychedelia of “The Sound of Fear” beamed in from two very different ends of E’s psyche.
The guitar riffs were blunt, crisp and often noisy, while our host’s sometimes off-key growl and jerky, shamanic dancing when not playing were certainly endearing. Eels are that rarest of entities in today’s music marketplace, a group who deal in the unashamedly trad currency of guitars and drums (both Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” and the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” found their way into the set, to no-one’s dismay), yet they manage to sound utterly vital through sheer force of their leader’s will and personality.
An amusing tableau towards the end saw E and guitarist Jeffrey "The Chet" Lyster renew their "vows" after ten years of playing together (“I now pronounce you lead singer and guitar player”), and it was this period much more than the absent mid-90s breakthrough hits which defined the show. “Souljacker Part 1”, of course, is an epic piece of bristling swamp-rock, while the bright title track of the new album and the restrained but inexorable build of a defining “Mr E’s Beautiful Blues” heaped great moments upon one another. “That was f***ing exhausting,” announced E with a smile during the first of multiple encores, but he can be certain it was energy well spent.