Live review: Eels, Glasgow ABC

[photopress:sj3640.jpg,thumb,alignleft]I hate gigs. Unless you’re down the very front, the much-vaunted atmosphere of a hot, sweaty club is massively overrated in my experience: instead, you spend the whole night putting up with people who don’t really understand the concept of live music, and who make ten trips to the bar despite the obstacle of a few thousand people between them and their pints.

Then there’s the inevitable collection of Really Tall Blokes who think they’re midgets, and who have perfected the knack not just of blocking your view but of anticipating your every movement and intercepting each one so the view remains blocked, and of course the constant chitterers who spend the entire concert wittering on witlessly. Factor in the bad sound and the fresh joy of Scotland’s smoking ban (although at least the ABC lets you nip out between the support band and the main attraction) and you need to really, really, really love a band to bother going to see them.

As I may have mentioned once or twice I love Eels, although I also realise that buying a ticket to see them is something of a lottery. Will it be an electric set or a with-strings one? Will E play the stuff you know, or spend the night amusing himself with obscure back-catalogue cuts and strange covers? That’s part of the fun, I reckon, and after a long tour with a string section you just knew that E would be gagging for some rock this time round – and he was, although not to universal acclaim. “Play some slow songs!” one bloke kept yelling. “It’s too heavy!”

I thought it was more garagey than heavy, but if you prefer the low-key Eels then you’d have hated the gig. As E might put it, last night was rock o’clock: twin distorted guitars throughout, slow stuff speeded up and played like the stooges, and a stone-faced “security guard” throwing karate shapes and offering cryptic between-song comments before finally climbing behind the keyboards. No bass, though, and while the keyboards provided the occasional bit of low-end thump the bass’s absence left a rather big hole in the sound – especially when, as happened far too often, songs were extended for years with nothing but droning feedback.

Still, it was big dumb fun. A tremendous cover of Iggy’s Rock Show, a (remarkably faithful, ie. demented) version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You, Sinatra’s That’s Life positively drenched in cheese, everything turned up louder than everything else and a sweet conclusion that involved two delighted young girls trading dance moves with the “security” chap. Souljacker at insane volumes, the rockier stuff from the Blinking Lights album, howling versions of Rags to Rags and Cancer for the Cure, and best of all, a heartbreaking version of Railroad Man with just E’s voice and guitar. I still prefer Sad Eels to Rock Eels, but I’d rather have Rock Eels than No Eels.

I still hate gigs, though.