Rock: Songs of passion, depth and eeling

The Eels Royal Festival Hall Depeche Mode Wembley Arena

If we disqualify cartoon dogs and legendary outlaws of the old West, then I know of only two people who answer to the name of Butch. And they're both bearded drummers in award- winning American post-grunge bands. Just a little something for you to ponder. Anyway, the Butch at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday was one third of the Eels. He's a hulking fellow who towers over a tiny kit, but who leaves the audience in no doubt that, where drums are concerned, it's not size that matters, it's what you do with them. Unlike most rock drummers, he has a triangle, which he tings at appropriate moments. And unlike most drummers, his triangle is hanging from an oddly-shaped stand: it's the statuette the band won as Best Newcomers at last year's Brits.

This is typical of the Eels' wry humour, as formulated by their leader, Mark "E" Everett. Like his two compadres, he wears a waistcoat and tie, and his wire-rimmed specs and sideburns complete the look of a mild-mannered bank clerk who might find himself looking down the barrel of Butch Cassidy's six-shooter. He is the closest equivalent America has to Jarvis Cocker. At the end of the set, he thanks us for being a "great group of youngsters" and tells us it's time "to get on with the business of living your lives". We roar our protest. "Are your lives really that bad?" chuckles E.

The only answer is: not as bad as yours. Never mind a childhood upended by drug addiction and therapy, E has more recently had to deal with his father's fatal heart attack, his sister's suicide and his mother's terminal cancer. Hence the Eels' new album, Electro-Shock Blues (DreamWorks), boasts the highest number of miserable song titles ever printed on one record sleeve. Nothing wrong with that, of course, especially when the subject matter is twisted into such odd, uplifting shapes, but that's not the only reason why Electro-Shock Blues requires a few listens to get into. While the group's debut, Beautiful Freak, is packed with memorable, stand-alone tracks, the follow-up is more of a concept album of unresolved, two- minute snippets. The Eels have to play only a few notes of any song from Beautiful Freak, and the audience breaks into spontaneous cheers of recognition. The new songs just aren't as distinctive, and the group have to rely on a flashing APPLAUSE sign, liberated from a game-show studio somewhere, for the same effect. We can be fairly sure that nothing from Electro-Shock Blues will ever feature on the hum-the-intro round of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

Still, in concert, no Eels song is entirely familiar. The band's unspoken motto is that if you want to hear a track exactly like it is on the album, put on the album. Come to a show, and you'll hear E playing a bass-line on the organ while Adam (the Eels aren't big on surnames) plays lead guitar on a fuzz-bass, for instance. "Going to Your Funeral Part I" becomes the finger-clicking sound of the Sharks squaring up to the Jets. "Hospital Food" showcases E's aptitude on the bongos. "Cancer for the Cure" (told you about those song titles) is a Doorsy funk rumble. Their breakthrough hit, "Novocaine for the Soul", is a twangy surf romp with a Spanish twist. And "My Beloved Monster" segues into the Temptations' "My Girl". "I've got sunshine," coos E, "on a cloudy day ..." And he does.

Seeing Depeche Mode the following evening, you can't suppress a twitch or two of contempt. E's relations are dropping like the President's flies and he manages to finish his album with the words "maybe it's time to live". Whereas Depeche Mode wear their existential gloom as a fashion accessory to match their leather trousers. Dave Gahan sings lyrics about the nobility of his suffering, but in his interviews he speaks with pride of how his excessive lifestyle nearly killed him. As if copying Michael Hutchence's haircut and sound weren't cheeky enough ...

Like the late Hutch, Gahan comes across as someone who doesn't blow his nose without checking how it should be done in the "How to te a Stadium Rock Messiah" manual. When he took to the stage at Wembley Arena on Tuesday, he did some majoretting with his mic stand, then led the crowd in some hearty synchronised arm-waving, so the floodlit Arena looked like a bed of hungry sea anemones. And he kept showing us his nifty Elvis hip-swivels: he certainly has a healthy spring in his Cuban-heeled step for a former critical case.

Martin Gore, who has persevered all these years with a hairstyle squeezed out of an icing bag, has been studying a different manual. If Gahan is the crotch of Depeche Mode, Gore is its heart and mind. He writes all of the songs, and their booming, robotic severity is completely at odds with Gahan's thrusting-rock-behemoth self-image. More often than not the contrast between singer and song makes both seem ridiculous. Certainly, no one could take Depeche Mode as seriously as they take themselves.

Well, maybe the buyers of 40 million albums would disagree. The group's current tour is promoting a compilation album of their singles from 1986 onwards, and, to be fair, it does indicate that they've kept the quality consistent over the years. And even if their mood has been a little too consistent, the style of their music has kept moving on with sufficient momentum to resist the pull of the Eighties-nostalgia-tour black hole which has claimed Culture Club and the Human League. But let us move to more noteworthy matters: you'll never guess who I spotted in the audience. Are you ready? It was Gary Lineker! Yes, really! Gary Lineker at a Depeche Mode gig! Just a little something for you to ponder.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power