Mark Eitzel and Woodpigeon (The Fleece, Bristol, Mar 3, 2013)

Mark Eitzel, the former frontman with American Music Club, has just come to the end of a two month tour to promote last year’s album Don’t Be A Stranger.

But like Peter Ustinov or Kenneth Williams on a 70s chat show, Eitzel is part of a bygone era  of entertainers that don’t really need the excuse of a new release to pack out venues like Bristol’s The Fleece. His admirers come for the timeless, tall tales that pour out of this wonderful, dishevelled Californian, whose sets are full to the brim with stories of his drug, sex and booze fuelled past and the tragic everyman in his native San Francisco.

Mark Eitzel

Mark Eitzel

Dressed tonight, which is the very last night of the tour, in shabby cord jacket with holes under the arms, once smart black trousers, cloth cap and greying white converse, he was in fine mood as he  crooned and chatted away through a funny and life affirming set backed by double bass, piano and drums.

Among the humour was his revelation that last time he was at The Fleece he spent time in the dressing room covering his face in deli meat, “that was cut in the shape of bears.”  He also gave the audience a full run down of the inspiration for each song, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. From his rebuttal of a drug dealer’s “bowl of powder,” his ability to clear a room at a party and the sad tale of the acid frazzled woman who, bare chested, is thrown out of a bar full of people who refuse to help her, he takes the audience straight into the disgusting, chaotic world he has inhabited.

Mark Eitzel

Mark Eitzel

Self deprecation is another aspect of his set, stopping during The Dead Part Of You to tell us that the line “what’s the price of your soul” is a “fucking stupid line.” He does it endearingly though; with the appearance of a man who has looked his demons straight in the eye, poured them a drink and gradually brought them on side. Who else can get away with singing a song such as Why I’m Bullshit, from 2009’s album Klamath, with such dignity?

Tonight there was no Johnny Mathis Feet, the most famous track from his American Music Club days, but that didn’t matter when he was able to call on the quality of tracks such as Don’t Be A Stranger’s I Love You But You’re Dead’ and Apology For An Accident, from the 1993 American Music Club album Mercury.

Among the many highlights was his tongue in cheek angry denial that he always writes songs about clowns. “I’ve only written one,” he laughingly admitted. Another was the tragic tale of a male stripper in Patriot’s Heart, from Love Songs For Patriots, the 2003 comeback American Music Club album.

Aside from the banter his voice is immediately striking. Beautiful is quite simply the only word that does it justice as he shuffled nervously across the stage, hand on heart, eyes closed, belting these wonderful, often confessional songs out. If you’ve never seen Eitzel live you are missing out.

Woodpigeon

Woodpigeon

Support tonight was from Woodpigeon, aka Canadian Mark Andrew Hamilton. Dressed in chunky knit jumper, with soft vocals and beard he is gradually winning his battle of jumping out of the shadow of Bon Iver’s debut For Emma Forever Ago. His voice is far sweeter than Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and he put in a short but captivating set in which he also found time to pay tribute to a Bristol gig legend ‘Big’ Jeff, who complete in giant blond afro was at the front as he so often is at gigs in the city, losing himself in the music.

The Wires

Wires

Also supporting was Bristol duo Wires, who tread a thin line between being cool indie hispters  and a decidedly uncool Extreme unplugged tribute band. I’m undecided on the evidence of a couple of songs which way they will fall, but I hope it’s the former.

 by Joe Lepper

 

 

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