Eels at The Olympia by Kieran Frost

Eels at The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, 1st July 2014

Mark Oliver Everett, or E as he is often known, is a chameleon-like performer. He can turn up, with his Eels, in a tracksuit and rock out for an hour, as he did at Electric Picnic last year. He can open a show filled with extracts from his book, the fantastic ‘Things The Grandchildren Should Know’, with a BBC documentary about his father and play the most heartfelt show you can imagine, like he did in Vicar Street a few years ago. Or, like Tuesday, he can be somewhere in between.

Before Eels made the Olympia stage on Tuesday though, Melanie De Biaso turned the venue into a smoky jazz club. With just her voice and an accompanying guitar (and occasional flute) she beguiles the crowd into silence; so much so that you can hear the dryers working in the toilets. When she clicks her fingers it’s like she’s transporting you to an underground bar in New York, all tied together with billowing smoke and her cool, gentle crooning.

It’s a perfect ambience only blemished by the occasional shuffle of feet or clank of chair.

Eels keep up the jazzy aesthetic to begin with; E’s singing Pinocchio’s When You Wish Upon a Star more in the style of a Louis Armstrong lament than the matinee idol original. His voice may be deep and cracked but it’s full of an honest beauty, something with which E managed to envelop the show.

There are songs about the father he hardly knew, despite living in the same house as him for 19 years, (Parallels) and his sister’s depression (A Line in the Dirt) that tug at the heartstrings but never really the bludgeon the crowd into a depressive mood.

E doesn’t look for sympathy for his troubles and even makes light of the heavy subject matter of his music. “We’re not gonna rock,” he says early on. “We’re not gonna even soft rock. It’s a notch below soft rock. Uneasy listening. Bummer rock.” It’s an example of the wit that just endears E further to his audience.

It’s not all as dour as he might make out either. While the contemplative laments like It’s a Motherfucker or My Beloved Monster do outweigh the more upbeat, uplifting songs like I Like Birds or Fresh Feeling, there is plenty of occasion for levity in the 90 minutes. I Like the Way This is Going, meanwhile is a beautiful song, beautifully delivered, telling the story of a gloriously honest, understated love.

Tonight Eels dispense with the bombast of the likes of Mr E’s Beautiful Blues and Hey Man, instead offering up something much more honest, intimate and heartfelt. Even the encore – “Looks like we are doing the corny encore shit after all,” E says after their first fake exit – of Elvis’s Can’t Help Falling in Love and Harry Nilsson’s Turn On Your Radio carry an authenticity you don’t normally find in covers.

The closing cover of Don’t Stop Believing, however, seems a rare misstep.

E connects with the crowd like few others. He elicits empathy and introspection in equal measure, something evident in the embraces he get from the audience when he steps down from the stage after Where I’m Going. No matter what the venue, what the occasion, Eels have the dexterity, the pathos and the musicianship to deliver the goods. Tonight is no exception.

Eels Photo Gallery

Photos: Kieran Frost