It is fair to say that Mark Everett - otherwise known as E, and the man behind Eels – has not always been known as the most cheerful of chaps. In his 2008 memoir Things the Grandchildren Should Know, he documents his rather tragic family history, events that have inspired a lot of the many downbeat moments found across Eels' nine albums.
However, when mid-way through tonight's show Everett shouts "That was fun!" after a frenetic "Tremendous Dynamite", and appears to mean it, it seems as good a sign as any that the dark times are in the past. For one thing, instead of some of the more introspective live performances he has previously essayed, this current Eels incarnation is most definitely a group enjoying themselves.
The six man band, which includes two on horns, all sport sharp suits, sunglasses and long beards – although on the last front, none come close to matching Everett's voluminous facial hair. Not that the band are just foils for him, however. On "Hot Fun in the Summertime", one of two Sly and the Family Stone covers, vocal duties are shared between the band, and an elongated introduction of each member to the crowd concludes with drummer Knuckles singing his own theme song, "Talkin' 'Bout Knuckles".
The crowd are in a welcoming mood too, enjoying the warm evening and – despite persistent threats – the absence of rain. The Somerset House Summer Series has become a highlight of the year, with the central courtyard intimate enough to make gigs here always feel like an occasion.
The setlist is long and wide-reaching, stretching from the group's debut single "Novocaine for the Soul" to tracks from last year's Tomorrow Morning LP. Although the songs are given a heavier treatment than on record - most dramatically on "I Love Birds", an acoustic ditty on 2000's Daisies of the Galaxy but tonight played as fast and loud as possible – it is by no means a one-note evening, with "That Look You Gave That Guy" heartbreaking as a tale of unrequited love.
After coming back for a second encore, the night finally ends with the gospel-tinged – and aptly named - "Looking Up". Even then Everett refuses to leave until he has had two shots at saying his goodbyes. Luckily for him the crowd is just as unwilling to let him go.