It's not all doom and gloom

Mark Eitzel | Camden Dingwalls, London
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"Bitterness poisons the soul... OK, this is the singalong part !" Mark Eitzel cheerily informs us. And it is. Since the commercial peak of his one-time band American Music Club with Mercury in 1993, Eitzel has had plenty of time and reason to be bitter, not to mention sad. His band dissolved soon after that peak amid exhaustion and acrimony with managers and lawyers, and Eitzel's subsequent solo career has shed fans by the bucketload, till he now finds himself label-less and broke. Worst of all, the woman who was his muse, Kathleen Burns, died two years ago, and he hasn't released a record since.

"Bitterness poisons the soul... OK, this is the singalong part !" Mark Eitzel cheerily informs us. And it is. Since the commercial peak of his one-time band American Music Club with Mercury in 1993, Eitzel has had plenty of time and reason to be bitter, not to mention sad. His band dissolved soon after that peak amid exhaustion and acrimony with managers and lawyers, and Eitzel's subsequent solo career has shed fans by the bucketload, till he now finds himself label-less and broke. Worst of all, the woman who was his muse, Kathleen Burns, died two years ago, and he hasn't released a record since.

Anyone expecting an exercise in depression tonight, though, would have left disappointed. Instead, Eitzel's seemingly bottomless songbook is mined for its mordant humour, as he releases whatever frustrations stalk him in a near-two-hour performance in which verses wander, rhythms drift, chords are missed, and he shambles and wobbles across the stage, maintaining an almost non-stop, freewheeling dialogue with the hundreds of hardcore fans packed around him.

Accompanied only by his acoustic guitar and a keyboardist who carefully watches his every unpredictable move, he's offering up the parts of his personality that might entertain us. The self-deprecation behind this can be glimpsed in scattered lines from the songs he plays: "If we could walk without crutches, would we have anything to say?"

In fact, the highlight from the several new songs he debuts is a song about a man sitting waiting for a lover who never comes. "So now I just sing my song for people that are gone," he sighs, hunched over, voice soaring and breaking, jokes over. A hush descends on the crowd as they realise the actual death that the song is about. Wondering whether he'll break down and cry (as he can do on stage), the mood is of honest sympathy. It's an unusually naked moment, and when he stops, the cheers explode.

Another new song, "Lonely Fairy in the Forest", is pure pop, stuffed with versions of despair that must be fought. It is followed by American Music Club's "The Western Sky", which he concludes with this chorus: "It is important, throughout your life, to proclaim your joy."

It's something he seems to be telling himself as much as us, and the joy is written on his face, however ephemerally, as he eventually walks away.

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