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Eels – Wonderful, Glorious

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Eels – Wonderful, Glorious

Posted on 11 February 2013 by Joe

Wonderful, Glorious is unmistakable Eels. There are the fast, bitter tracks with those oh-so catchy riffs and occasional saucy lyrics. Then there’s the slow, bittersweet ones, for when it all goes wrong in life for Mark Everett, the ever present leader of the Eels.

It’s not a great Eels album in the same way their first two albums Beautiful Freak and Electro Shock Blues are. But do Eels fans really expect that these days? What it has got going for it is that it’s certainly not a poor Eels album, like the self obsessed maudlin break up fest End Times (2009) was.

In many ways it’s a continuation of  2010’s album Tomorrow Morning, the last album by Everett and his assembled musicians. Wonderful Glorious shares that album’s optimistic tone. It also feels like a proper full band album, rather than a hairy bloke in a basement studio getting drunk and sad about lost loves (see End Times).

Seeing Eels at  the Glastonbury Festival two years ago while they were touring Tomorrow Morning and churning out a highly entertaining ‘best of’ set I was struck by what a timeless dirty rock ‘n’ roll band they are. Part classic R’n’B and soul-funk, part punk, all with Everett’s to the point lyrics and distorted delivery.

So here we are on album number 10 starting with Bombs Away, about a common Everett theme of the geek who turns. “I’ve had enough of being a mouse, I no longer keep my mouth shut, bombs away, I’m going to shake the house.” While the subject matter is a bit clichéd the track is still well executed, with guitar solos in just the right place and the dirty soul riff keeping it going.

The pedestrian second track Kinda Fuzzy heralds the weakest segment of the album, especially Accident Prone, one of the slow bittersweet ones that lacks the clever turn of phrase of say The Look You Give That Guy, from 2009’s Hombre Lobo, or End Times’ Little Bird. Fourth track Peach Blossom is just mostly a jam around a repetitive snare with a half catchy riff.

And so the album progresses between fillers and ballads until an almighty guitar riff on Stick Together wakes this beast up. The track True Original, with its heavy reverb actually ends up being one of the album’s most successful slowies.

Open My Present presented me with a quandary. It’s a pretty base sex song with appalling lyrics about “unwrapping my present” and “relieving my state, I just can’t wait.” But it’s clearly not serious and while it may sound a more than a little crass it is at heart a good old fashioned dirty rock and roll song.

The album drifts away a bit at the end into the fillers of I am Building A Shrine and You’re My Friend but ends well with the funk filled title track.

Everett is not breaking the mold here, but being out on the road during 2011 has clearly re-energised him and while tracks like Kinda Fuzzy don’t appeal to me here I suspect their focus on a catchy riff and a hairy bloke with distorted vocals will go down a storm live. Not a good selection for the uninitiated but there’s enough to please Eels fans here.

6/10

by Joe Lepper

 

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Glastonbury Festival 2011

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Glastonbury Festival 2011

Posted on 28 June 2011 by Joe

The Glastonbury Festival is something to be enjoyed and endured, especially the latter when the weather decides to play some evil tricks.

With rain lashing down from Wednesday, when the 200,000 festival goers began arriving, through to Saturday morning the vast  Somerset dairy farm site was soon covered in foot deep sticky mud.

Tough slog though the deep mud

Simple journeys to the third world slum toilets, or to one of the dozens of stages soon became a tough old slog. By Sunday the sun came out, the mud dried but we were faced with further cruelty, blistering heat on vast open fields with little shade.

It’s a true endurance test. But thankfully as a local (I live six miles away) and as a volunteer steward (with my earnings going direct to my local school charity) I was spared much of the horrors the paying public endure, such as the traffic jams and the desperate search for a camping space.

For me I could cycle to and from site and stay in the nicer crew camping area with showers. This made all the difference.

Nowhere to hide from the sun on Sunday

Another important aspect to remember is that it is a festival of contemporary performing arts offering something for pretty much any taste, not just those attracted to the chart acts and bland indie rock of the Pyramid stage line up.

For those like me who are not keen on Beyonce or Coldplay there is plenty more to see. I managed to see some of my favourite gigs without seeing a single Pyramid stage act.

Here’s my Friday to Sunday run down of some of the acts we saw proving that there’s far more to this famous festival than just Beyonce.

Friday

With rain forecast and the mud building up I decided to stick to one area for early afternoon, taking in the BBC introducing, John Peel and Oxlyers in West stages. All in tents, creating a better atmosphere and crucially shelter from the rain.

Things started badly with French pop folk act Cocoon whose dull Coldplay-light set in the large John Peel Stage was pleasant enough but uninspiring. Danny and the Champions of the World‘s tired pub rock in the Oxlyers in West also left me deflated.

I sought refuge in the small BBC Introducing tent and thankfully Brighton’s Twin Brother was on hand to provide one of a raft of festival highlights. Just 100 or so turned up to watch their short 25 minute set in this small tent but those that did were treated to one of the UK brightest unsigned talents. The key to their engaging live show was the band’s hub, multi-instrumentalist Alex Wells and  his  deep Lloyd Cole-esque voice. He provided a truly captivating performance on tracks such as ‘Lungs’. His first release is due out in October we are told.

Twin Brother's Alex Wells

Over to Oxlyers in West again for Dry the River who impressed my colleague when they played the Great Escape festival in Brighton in May.  I can see why, they commanded the stage with their fast paced folk rock set. This band is destined for larger stages and the few thousand or so in this medium sized tent were impressed.

As the rain got heavier Oxlyers in West became a bit of a squeeze.  Emmy the Great, aka Emma-Lee Moss and her band, made light of their sudden popularity. “You don’t even know who we are, you’re all welcome though,” she said. The Darren Hayman collaborator delivered one of the best natured sets of the weekend. Her songs such as ‘We Almost Had a Baby’ are bittersweet tracks of love and modern life that have a wide appeal and I expect the rain and the search for shelter will have helped shift a few more CDs for them.

Emmy the Great

Next up for me was the first of the day’s legends; the 1980s band Big Audio Dynamite, formed by The Clash’s Mick Jones.

Despite the rain and the foot deep mud I was more than willing to trudge across site and up a hill to the Park’s main stage, which is set in a slight dip giving it a crater like intimacy.

I stopped off to see The Vaccines on the way, a band I’ve criticised before for being bland without ever seeing live. My feelings were justified as they ushered out their radio friendly electric Mumford and Son’s style hits like ‘Post Break Up Sex’. Their cover of The Standells ‘Good Guys Don’t Where White’ was pretty good though.

Safely at The Park I plonked myself within spitting distance of BAD (I didn’t spit by the way). As they took the stage, I was struck by how old they looked. Jones like a hundred-year-old Larry Grayson in suit jacket and jeans and Don Letts with grey hairs under his hat and wearing what I can only describe as a school caretaker’s brown coat

BAD's Mick Jones

It was great to hear the old BAD songs though with ‘Medicine Show’ and ‘E=MC2’ outstanding, but there was a sadness in seeing these old men play what seems now like quite dated music. Letts looked like he could do with a nice cup of tea to go with his toasting.

Time for another quick word about the Park. It’s a kind of festival within a festival. Surrounding the crater like main stage is the giant ribbon look out tower, Glastonbury sign, and the wonderfully surreal Rabbit Hole venue, in which characters send you on missions to find vegetables and can even cut your hair.

The Park also plays host to a special guest for two nights. They are usually big and this year the rumours where that Pulp and Radiohead would take to the stage.

Trapped by Radiohead

Tonight the rumours were confirmed and it was Radiohead’s turn. Even though I haven’t really liked any of their albums since Kid A I was swept up briefly by the sense of occasion of this giant of festival rock act playing a relatively small stage. But with the rain lashing down and seemingly half the festival site cramming into the Park it became apparent that not only could I barely see anything, but the sound did not travel well beyond a hundred metres from the stage. As chants of ‘turn it up’ rained down around me I decided to miss this precious rock experience and sought a saviour.

Step forward Billy Bragg. This year Bragg was curating the tented Leftfield stage and his  hour and a quarter headline set tonight in the dry was just the tonic.

“If you want subtle political critique you are in the wrong place. I’m just going to belt them out,” said Bragg as he delivered a fine set of classics like ‘Greetings from the New Brunette’, on his telecaster and acoustic guitar, punctuated with some excellent rants and briefly joined by Badly Drawn Boy for some intricate guitar work.

Billy Bragg

The BNP, public sector cuts, tax evaders and U2, who were taking to the Pyramid stage at around the same time, all came under fire. As Bragg finished a sing along encore of ‘New England’ I decided this was a good way to end the day. I choose to ignore the opportunity to watch the pompous Bono in the rain, even though he was getting barracked by UK Uncut protesters.

Saturday

Another perk of being local is being close enough to take my six-year-old son for a day. Under 12s go free and we braved the mud to spend most of the day in the Kidz Area. I have mixed feelings about kids at Glastonbury. Watching some of the parents push buggies around foot thick mud or seeing kids my son’s age surrounded by drunks watching the Chemical Brothers at 11pm makes me question why many bring them.

But after a few hours at the Kidz area I can see why. It was a little oasis of less mud (extra effort had been made laying saw dust) and my son was enthralled by the endless rides and entertainment featuring children’s TV stars.

Kidz Field

After my son was safely packed off home in the late afternoon it was time for music again on this  rainless day. With an hour to kill before California act Fool’s Gold were at the large outdoor West Holts stage I popped into the cabaret tent just in time to see Jeremy Hardy, who expertly handled some drunk hecklers and delivered a set that I would expect from an experienced comedian.

After an entertaining set from Fool’s Gold, who expertly combine sunny California pop with African music, it was time for some more legends.

Reformed for this special gig at the Acoustic stage Pentangle were something of a folk super group back in the1960s and 1970s. Featuring the original line up of guitarists Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, singer Jacqui McShee, drummer Terry Cox and bassist Danny Thompson, for a folk fan like me this was a very special occasion.

Pentangle

Even though they’d barely rehearsed together the old magic was still there. Watching Renbourn weave his intricate guitar playing around Jansch’s riffs and Thompson and Cox’s jazz folk rhythms was one of my favourite  musical moments at the festival. They seemed delighted to be there as they swept though tracks such as ‘Hunting Song’, ‘Bruton Town’, ‘House Carpenter’ and ‘Cruel Sister’. This was an experience to cherish.

Glastonbury is all about simple decisions, such as do I give myself a coronory getting to see a band far away or sit tight. The vast size and distances make travelling around difficult and you have to except you will miss some acts. After Pentangle I was faced with a half hour trek through mud to see Battles at the John Peel stage or the easier option of seeing Janelle Monae at the nearby West Holts. I went for the tougher choice after missing Battles before at an ATP Festival.

Battles

It was worth the hard slog especially to see Battles’ drummer John Stanier, who took centre stage in a set dominated by the excellent recent album Gloss Drop. Among the highlights was the album’s guest singer Matias Aguayo joining the band for ‘Ice Cream’.

Sunday

To say the sun came out is an understatement. Suddenly the rain soaked site became bathed in sunshine with temperatures reaching the late 20s. Gigs in tents was once again my priority with the site offering little other respite from the baking sun.

The BBC Introducing stage was my first port of call with the 80s indie pop of the Yes Cadets and Margate surf punks Two Wounded Birds providing two more to add to our ones to watch list. The latter were especially good.

Two Wounded Birds

Ok Go in the nearby John Peel tent was my next destination. I arrived early to see the last half of The Joy Formidable, one of the most hyped up acts at the festival. Even though their epic indie rock was not to my taste their performance was highly impressive. When the festival returns in a couple of years I expect to see them on a main stage line up. Those fans there felt they had seen one of this long running festival’s classic performances.

I love a band that makes a bit of an effort and Ok Go certainly do that. Known for their inventive videos this US pop rock are equally impressive live. With each member dressed in a bright coloured suit.  I was left impressed with both their showmanship and song writing.

Ok Go

Squeeze are the nearest comparison as OK Go  put in for me the performance of the festival, featuring great versions of ‘Here it Goes Again’ (the one with the treadmill video) as well as ‘This Too Shall Pass’ and ‘Sky Scrapers’ from their most recent album Of The Blue Colour of the Sky. It was a masterclass in audience engagement as they invited a member of the crowd up to play guitar on one track and indulged in some crowd surfing.

Back at the BBC Introducing stage I found myself in the audience of a live BBC 6Music acoustic session from Super Furry Animal frontman Gruff Rhys. Just three tracks, but all wonderful, especially ‘Sensations in the Dark’ from his latest album Hotel Shampoo.

Gruff Rhys

As I bid farewell to the indie tent area it was over to the main Other Stage for my final two acts of the day, TV on the Radio and Eels. The sun was still beaming down during TV on the Radio’s set and while they delivered a polished performance, even with regular lashings of sun cream and water the heat was unbearable.

By the time Eels came on the sun was starting to set and the band fronted by Mark Everett provided a fitting end to my Glastonbury.  All with  giant beards the band delivered a mixture of classic singles and recent album tracks in a quirky Blues Brothers revue show style. It was a mix that worked well for the stadium sized crowd.

Eels

Highlights included ‘Novocain for my Soul’ and ‘Souljacker Part 1’ as well as  tracks from 2009’s Hombre Lobo such as  ‘The Look You Give That Guy’ and ‘Tremendous Dynamite’.

As I cycled home in the dark later that night I thought to myself would I go again when it returns in 2013. Despite being caked in mud, weary and deprived of sleep the answer is still yes.  The festival will still have its critics, some of whom have actually been and experienced the mud rather than just watched it on the tele. But ultimately Glastonbury is so big your experience  is what you want to make it. For me as a music fan it is still an exemplary festival.

8/10 (would have been 10 if the weather wasn’t so cruel)

by Joe Lepper

See Also: Rain and mud greets Glastonbury Festival-goers , Neonfiller’s Best Small Festival Guide2011

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Eels – End Times

Posted on 21 September 2010 by Joe

While some heartbroken artists find solace through penning the odd break up song here and there, Eels frontman Mark Everett has decided to rake through the whole emotional mess of his recent divorce with an entire album, End Times.

The only problem with an album devoted to a marriage break up is that it’s kind of, well, depressing. Like the drunken ramblings of a barfly, whose ex-wife never understood him, End Times allows Everett to really wallow in his marriage break up and also get downright depressed about pretty much everything in the world.

Just read the blurb on the band’s website and you get some idea of the downbeat marketing behind End Times.

“End Times is the sound of an artist growing older in uncertain times. An artist who has lost his great love while struggling with his faith in an increasingly hostile world teetering on self-destruction…. it’s a “divorce album” with a modern twist: the artist equates his personal loss with the world he lives in losing its integrity.” Hardly, giving it the big sell, is it?

But while End Times does tend to descend into self-obsessed waffle in places, there are still some great tracks. Even though it is among the weakest Eels albums, and comes in marked contrast in tone to last year’s upbeat album about desire Hombre Lobo, End Times cannot help but showcase Everett’s undoubted talent.

Among the top tracks on End Times is ‘Little Bird’, a simple, largely just guitar track that is heartfelt and stays just about on the right side of melancholy. It’s already become one of my favourite ever Eels songs.

Another is ‘Line in the Dirt’, a piano number which opens up with horns towards the end and recounts Everett forcing to piss in the ground in his garden because his wife has locked herself in the bathroom. I would have thought that someone as successful as Everett would have more than one toilet in his house, but I’ll concede that some artistic licence is needed at times.

The up tempo ‘Gone Man’ is another highlight. There is also a nice end to the album with, ‘On My Feet’, which offers hope of better times to come. ‘It’s not easy standing on my feet these days, But you know I’m pretty sure That I’ve been through worse, And I’m sure I can take the hit,”sings Everett on the track.

Less good are the rather lame blues number ‘Paradise Blues’ and ‘End Times’, where the lovesick barfly in Everett attempts to make moaning and whinging an Olympic event.

Everett, who recorded the album on his own, mostly on a four-track in his home studio, acknowledges that End Times will not appeal to everyone. He says on the band’s website, “This will be some people’s favourite Eels album and some people’s least favorite Eels album, I’m prepared for that.”

7/10

by Joe Lepper,  Jan 2010

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Eels – Hombre Lobo

Posted on 17 September 2010 by Joe

“That thin, wild mercury sound,” said Bob Dylan of his 1966 classic album Blonde on Blonde, a quote that can equally be applied to Hombre Lobo, the Eels seventh album and first in four years.

Following on from 2005’s Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, an epic double CD of emotional introspection by Eels frontman Mark Everett, Hombre Lobo couldn’t be more different.

Stripped down to the thin sound of just guitar, bass and drums, its 12 tracks have one main theme – desire, laid out across a range of raw, wild rock and heartbreaking ballads.

Running across the album is the premise that the ‘Dog Faced Boy’ character on the Eel’s Souljacker album has grown up into a wild crazed Hombre Lobo, the Spanish for wolf man.

Sometimes the Hombre Lobo is a crazed stalker, other times he is a lovesick wreck, frail and sad. It is a rare performer that can tackle such a range of emotions, but fortunately Everett can carry it off.

Opening track ‘Prizefighter’ sets the atmosphere well and is firmly in the wild category, a fuzzed up 12 bar blues conjuring up images of  being punch drunkenly in love. Among the best of the other raw and wild tracks are the album’s highpoint ‘Tremendous Dynamite’, a howling piece of sexual energy.

On the ballad side, ‘In my dreams’, stands out, as does ‘The Longing,’ and the upbeat ‘All The Beautiful Things’.

Hombre Lobo comes as a welcome contrast to the introspective and ambitiously produced Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. It is nevertheless unmistakably Eels, this time offering a refreshing back to basics approach to the wilder emotions in us all.

8/10

by Joe Lepper, May 2009

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