Eels - Bridgewater Hall Manchester - 20.5.05

After a bizarre short animated Russian film the sold out Bridgewater Hall audience wait patiently for Eels (mainly frontman Mark Everett and an ever changing cast of characters). The new album is a two disc collection called "Blinking Lights and Other Reservations" and to enrapture the crowd with the spirit of the recording the musicians on stage use a mini-E orchestra. Suitably bearded, but smartly dressed in a dapper suit and smoking a cigar large enough to startle the king of bling, Jimmy Saville, E nonchalantly walks around from the piano to his guitar using a cane for support.

Unlike the spectacular show Eels played at the Palace Theatre a number of years ago, tonight's set is slower paced, more subtle, serious and introspective, but ultimately it's less enjoyable and not the ideal concert for a Friday night as songs about death, suicide and the hardships of life aren't the recipe to inspire you for a fun packed weekend. Of course being Eels it's never depressing. E's lyrics are laced with dark humour and he banters with his band mates about the drug policy at the theatre, joking with his fans and not being phased at all by unwelcome hecklers. Chat on drums may not have the cheeky appeal of Butch, but he can sure play like a pro even using trash cans at one point.

The brutally honest "Things The Grandchildren Should Know" is one of the most original and startling cuts on the album as E's increasingly croaky voice catalogue's a family history of disappointment with wisdom and optimistic verve. Nobody can express tragedy as clearly and concisely as Mr Everett can with such rewarding results. Much perkier and jollier is "Losing Streak" where the band rock out and the mood is lifted with a catchy track proud to be pop. New single "Hey Man" is one of the most commercial and radio friendly songs played tonight and could possible be a hit. Older songs like "I Like Birds" and "Souljacker" are surprising choices, but the truculent frontman conveniently neglects "Novocaine For The Soul" or "Mr E's Beautiful Blues".

After 4, yes 4 encores, Eels sneak back on after the house lights have come on to play a cover of Prince's "You'll Never Take The Place Of My Man". It's typical of the devil may care attitude E and Friends have where they never play by the rules and it's more a case of expect the unexpected. This hasn't been the most impressive Eels gig, but it's certainly not been dull. What they come up with next is anyone's guess, but it will certainly be worth waiting for.

Nicholas Paul Godkin

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