The Times

Eels at Royal Festival Hall
4 stars

By Laura Lee Davies
February 27, 2008

It's a curiosity that if a pop artist records a good song he or she has to do countless interviews. Why do we expect to find our heroes engaging, professional talkers as well as great songwriters? Yet the Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett (E) not only offers snapshots of his life through evocative alt.rock songs, but has proved, with this tour, that sometimes there is a genuinely interesting story behind the music.

The evening opened with a screening of a BBC4 documentary E made about his father, who was a distant figure in his childhood and who died when the singer was 19. In making Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, E traveled around America meeting colleagues of Hugh Everett III, a brilliant physicist whose theory about quantum mechanics and parallel universes was barely recognized in his lifetime.

Downbeat as that might sound, the evening with E and his sidekick, the Chet, was a warm, funny experience. After a blast of the National Anthem, E explained that the Queen turned down his invitation to the show, so there was a lookalike sitting in the royal box. E and the Chet moved around their small collection of instruments, filling Festival Hall with the sound of Eels favorites. Some were taken from their recent Meet the Eels compilation, among them Novocaine for the Soul, performed with a rock brutality that better reflected the song's “life is hard” sentiment than the deceptively pretty arrangement of the 1997 hit.

Other highlights included the delightful I Like Birds (he learnt to appreciate birds after his mother died), and the mournful ballad Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor, about his sister's suicide. In between there was a handful of songs that were simply about love and “not about a dead family member” (as he observes in the sleevenotes to Meet the Eels).

Switching from a slow country twang, they jammed the blues out of Flyswatter, swapping between piano and drums without dropping a beat, and pounded out a loving if messy rendition of Led Zeppelin's Good Times Bad Times.

E stopped to read some recent fanmail and live reviews, self-mockingly including an Eagles write-up “by mistake.” The Chet read extracts from Everett's autobiography, making wry asides to his fellow Eel.

The intimacy of E's vocal style on record was conveyed here through this two-man cabaret, to the enthusiastic delight of the audience. Opening and closing the show, a booming “voice from the speakers” imparted its encouragement, as if E's father was watching over him. This was a playful reminder that, through his music, E's (probably lifelong) interview with himself continues.

The Guardian

Royal Festival Hall, London
5 stars

By Maddy Costa
February 27, 2008

Reaching new heights ... Mark Oliver Everett in concert at the Royal Festival Hall. 

"Mark Oscar Everett," booms a disembodied voice portentously, "this is your life." It is one of many daft gags Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett has concocted to punctuate his fourth appearance at the Festival Hall. Moments before, the arrival of a small, glittering woman in the royal box had been heralded by a buzzing rendition of God Save the Queen. Later, in an engaging parody of rock-star egomania, Everett reads excerpts from his supposedly fawning fan mail, in which one Perth resident demands, "Why are you such a cunt?", as well as reviews of his "classic psychedelic funk-rock" that make Everett wonder if they are describing his own shows.

These wry set pieces are appreciated because Everett's life - which over the course of the evening he documents in song, readings from his recent autobiography and a screening of his BBC4 film about his physicist father - has been the stuff of tragedy. His father died of a heart attack just as his work was being recognized, his sister committed suicide, his mother died of cancer two years later. When Everett sings of his family, it is with the flat, dispassionate interest of a mortician. There is nothing mawkish about Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor, but the matter-of-factness in Everett's gruff voice and the haunted simplicity of his guitar-playing render this tribute to his sister emotionally unbearable.

He opens with a series of country-tinged ballads, whose tenderness is sundered by the jagged howls of Souljacker Pt 1. One moment he is softly affecting, as in the lovely, lovelorn Jeannie's Diary and I Want to Protect You, the next fierce and furious, Bus Stop Boxer precisely capturing the dreadful adrenaline of youth.

Everett has just one accompanist, introduced as The Chet, whose nonchalant facility on drums, keyboards, musical saw, harmonium, lapsteel and more is breathtaking. Theirs is the symbiotic partnership of every musician's dreams, and it culminates in a startling party trick. Halfway through Flyswatter, Everett leaves the piano and, without missing a beat, takes the drumsticks from Chet, who picks up at the piano where Everett left off. A few minutes later, they swap back. No drama, no swagger. Just Everett's restrained way of showing he can still reach new heights.

The Sunday Times

Eels, Royal Festival Hall

Live and kicking

By Andrew Smith
March 2, 2008

The gentility of the Festival Hall presents a challenge to rock acts, but Mark “E” Everett rose to it beautifully, opening with a BBC film about his father – the force behind so many of his songs – and making a point of inviting the Queen, who graciously sent a lookalike in her stead. By the interval, it was tempting to wish all gigs could begin this way, but, in truth, few artists could provide such rich material for a film as E.

Hugh Everett III was a paid-up genius, a theoretical physicist who studied at Princeton and developed the theory of parallel universes, rivaling Niels Bohr, one of the giants of quantum mechanics. At the time, a notion that all possible universes could simultaneously exist seemed so implausible that it was dismissed, but over the years it has come to look comparatively reasonable, and the shunned academic has fans and supporters throughout the world. Nonetheless, Everett Sr was broken by his rejection, and his son barely heard him speak for 19 years.

As anyone who has listened to Eels will know, the singer-writer’s childhood was not a happy one, but this film sees him making peace with it. A better introduction to the musical part of the show is hard to imagine. The darker reaches of human experience are the stock in trade of many songwriters, but what sets E apart is the sense that he is always striving to move beyond them – often with the aid of significant gallows humor, as befits a man whose father asked for his ashes to be thrown out with the trash. (They duly were.)

This is why, whatever the substance of the material, his music is never depressing: it might also be why E and his multi-instrumentalist sidekick, the Chet, were most affecting on the pared-down arrangements of tunes such as Souljacker Part 2 (piano, voice), Bus Stop Boxer (piano, voice, saw) and the exquisitely haunting I'm Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart (piano, voice, pedal steel). Japes with “the Queen” and readings from E’s recent book lent a heightened sense of intimacy. They’ve seldom been more enjoyable to spend an evening with.


Highline Ballroom, New York City

April 1, 2008.  

The adage that you've gotta laugh to keep from crying has informed the music of Eels' mastermind Mark Oliver Everett -- aka E -- since the beginning of his career. Alternating between harrowing songs about the deaths of family members and innocent musings about nature's glories, as he did at this performance, Everett showed an uncanny ability to keep his audience off-balance but fully engaged.

Rather than use a standard opening act, Everett opted to kick off the evening with a screening of the BBC special "Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives," which focused on the singer's tumultuous relationship with his deceased father, a brilliant physicist whose aloof demeanor had a profound impact on his offspring.

While not exactly conducive to setting a party mood, the documentary did set the proper tone for the torrent of confessions and digressions that would follow. In contrast to the Eels' last Gotham visit, on which  Everett was surrounded by a seeming cast of thousands, this performance found him accompanied by a single sideman, the multi-instrumentalist Chet Lyster.

The two men traded places frequently throughout the set, swapping keyboard, guitar and percussion duties -- conjuring up bursts of distortion on "Dog's Life" and "Flyswatter" and waxing mournfully bluesy on "Souljacker Part One" and the spectral "Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor." At times, the minimalism verged on the contrarian -- Everett shed samples from songs that needed a bit more meat on their bones -- but more often, it created a hushed mood befitting the singer's subject matter.

Evincing a skewed sense of showmanship, Everett devoted a few moments to readings from his autobiography -- although he designated spoken-word duty to his bandmate, rather than deliver them himself. He did, however, take full control of the spotlight when the chips were down.

The Boston Globe

Life of an Eel is played out

At: The Somerville Theatre

By Joan Anderman
April 3, 2008

You've heard of the concept album, but what about the concept concert?

Mark Oliver Everett, also known as E, the sole long-standing member of the band Eels, is on the road in an alt-rock version of "This Is Your Life." Of course, all of Everett's intensely personal music revolves around a theme of "me," but this low-key, multimedia show catapults the artist's self-reflection to a literate and sometimes humorous new level.

The evening opened with a screening of "Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives," a BBC documentary about the Everett family, which any Eels devotee knows is a tragically integral part of the band's music. Quirky as it may seem to start a rock show with a film about quantum physics (specifically, the theories postulated by Everett the elder), the son's odyssey to get to know his brilliant, distant father 25 years after his death was richly illuminating. With the film's family snapshots still fresh on the mind, hearing Everett sing "Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor" (about his sister's suicide) was nothing short of poignant.

All said, "An Evening With Eels" was geared toward hard-core fans eager for illumination. A disembodied voice introduced the show's musical portion with a needless reminder: "The following is a true story." Lovely pop-rock songs, most laced with longing and despair, some surprisingly hopeful, were interspersed with readings from Everett's new memoir and some laughable fan mail.

Everett is touring with one good-natured utility player known as the Chet. The pair didn't sit still for longer than the length of a song, criss-crossing the stage to take up new positions at the piano, behind the drum kit, at the harmonium, with an electric guitar. Weirdly, it was the Chet who read passages from "Things the Grandchildren Should Know" and sang lead on a cover of Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times."

Eels released more than 75 tracks on a pair of jam-packed compilations earlier this year, which gave Everett a great reason to randomly scour the catalog in concert. With a two-man lineup, the songs sounded invariably stripped, but they spanned the aesthetic spectrum: from the winsome folk of "Cheater's Guide" to earnest pop ("I Want to Protect You").

"Life is hard/ And so am I," Everett sang, rough and at the ready, on "Novocaine for the Soul." After this show, his outlook requires no explanation.

The Independent

The Dome, Brighton
4 stars

Laughter in the face of tragedy

By Fiona Sturges
Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Many musicians claim to have been saved by rock'n'roll but Mark Oliver Everett – singer, songwriter and driving force behind the US band Eels – wouldn't be alive without it. The death of his father from a heart attack when Everett was 19 was the first in a series of tragedies that, one by one, claimed the lives of his whole family.

Compounding the depression that already afflicted the musician, his sister committed suicide in 1996 and two years later his mother died of cancer. But rather than allow his grief to overwhelm him, Everett channeled his experiences into a series of darkly humorous and often beautiful albums.

Now, more than a decade into his career, he has added filmmaker and writer to his repertoire. Excerpts from his newly published memoir Things the Grandchildren Should Know, detailing his extraordinary family history and his burgeoning success with Eels, are read out at tonight's performance, while last year's BBC documentary Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, which saw Everett getting to know his late father, a quantum physics genius who developed the theory of parallel universes but never got the recognition he deserved, opens the show. Following Everett's visits to Princeton where his father developed the theory, and the Pentagon where he later worked, it's a fitting and frequently funny introduction to a musician who, despite his considerable success, has always been on the outside looking in.

After the film comes the music, with Everett taking the stage in a trucker's cap and boiler suit. The set spans the Eels' career, from top 10 hit "Novocaine for the Soul" from their debut album Beautiful Freak, to tracks from their latest opus Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. Despite the songs' dark subject matter, the music is never depressing. Indeed, it's Everett's matter-of-factness in singing "Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor", an epitaph to his sister, or his paean to isolation "It's a Motherfucker" that makes it so moving.

Previous tours have seen Everett performing with a full band and string section but tonight's show is a pared-down affair in which, following a handful of acoustic numbers, he is accompanied on drums, guitars, harmonium and musical saw by a multi-instrumentalist, introduced simply as "the Chet". The pair enjoy the kind of synergetic relationship that, during "Flyswatter", allows them to swap instruments – one on drums, the other on piano – without missing a beat. It's a neat party trick that is about entertainment rather than ego.

Another of Chet's duties is reading book excerpts, one of which details Everett's surreal encounter with the actress Angie Dickinson during his first sojourn in Los Angeles. She was presenting a band with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at the time, and Everett decided to introduce himself. He gave her a demo tape and waited for her call, but it never came.

If Chet is the straight man in this double act, then Everett is the clown. Belying the troubled history that fuels his art, he's an upbeat and charismatic presence with a nice line in self-parody. Sending up the narcissism and vanity of the rock star, Everett invites hecklers to "let it all out" and wonders what he can do to make himself feel good. He decides to read out some fan mail.

There's a couple of fawning letters from female admirers, but then comes one from a man in Perth. "You suck," it says. "Have a nice day." Book-ending the set is a booming Tom Baker-ish voice from the speakers, which announces "Mark Oscar [sic] Everett, this is your life." And what a hell of a life it's been.

The London Paper

The Eels at the Royal Festival Hall

February 24, 2008

For a man who has had a notoriously tragic life, Eels lead singer Mark Everett (better known as E) is in a cheery mood for his gig at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

As he slouches onto the stage, his face almost completely hidden by a baseball cap, thick glasses and a heavy beard, he tells us that he invited the Queen to the show.

But, E tells us, even though he offered to throw in signed albums and a copy of his recent autobiography, ‘Things The Grandchildren Should Know’, the unflinching story of his father’s premature death and his sister’s suicide, Her Majesty turned him down.  

It’s her loss.  E packs his 90-minute set with great songs from across his 15-year career – and although his banter between numbers may be funny, it’s clear that he means every word he sings in his raw, cracking voice.

The mood ranges from a brutally bleak version of Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor, in which E sings from the point of view of his dead sister, to a rocked-out version of Shrek soundtrack hit My Beloved Monster.

E and his one fellow musician switch and swap instruments constantly - from guitar and drums to xylophone and musical saw – so although there may only be two of them, they make more than enough sound to count as a whole band.

And after audience favorites including Novocaine for the Soul and a sad but raucous cover of Led Zeppelin’s Good Times Bad Times, the band finish on about as cheery a note as there is in E’s world – PS You Rock My World, a song whose lyrics include “I was at a funeral the day I realized I wanted to spend my life with you.”

But even after two encores, dozens of audience members refuse to leave until herded out into the cold night by burly bouncers.

The Birmingham Post

Eels at Birmingham Town Hall

Feb 29 2008
By Simon Harper

There aren't many shows where fans are given an option of indulging music or physics. Mark Oliver Everett, mainman of Eels, has made a documentary about the physicist father he never knew, but after the showing of a film the audience gathered in the Town Hall opted in favor of Everett's musical output.

Hunched over his guitar, the Virginia-born songwriter was distinguished only by the thick glasses and dark beard which were visible beneath his cap. On the back of the recent Meet the Eels collection - essentially a "greatest hits" in all but name - Everett ran through more than 20 songs in a perfectly paced set, often choosing to play diamond-cut fragments rather than the full compositions.

Only Flyswatter, with its crashing piano chords and pneumatic drums, was stretched out for longer, morphing into a drumming relay between Everett and Eels companion The Chet. With only the two men on stage, it made for a staggeringly intimate show. Accompanied by glockenspiel, drums or bowed saw, Everett alternated between stools, sat either with a guitar or at a piano, rendering the likes of Last Stop: This Town and The Sound of Fear as elegantly understated laments.

Much has been made of the tragedies surrounding his family, so what was most surprising was his deadpan humor, which was as much a part of the show as his plaintive, often heartbreaking songs. He read out reviews and fan letters, which may or may not be real, but sounded plausible and wacky enough to provoke roars of laughter.

After a nod to Led Zeppelin and Elvis Presley, a second encore saw Everett perform the title track of his most recent studio album, 2005's Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. Beautiful and tender, like the entire show, it brought a quietly enchanting evening to a glorious end.