It surely says something about the versatility of Mark Oliver Everett (E to his fans) that his previous tour included a string quartet, and his London appearance was a relatively sedate affair held at the Royal Festival Hall. This, by contrast is quite definitely a gig in the classic style. Sticky floor littered with glasses and bottles? Check. Faintly sinister red-faced touts outside, overpowering odours of cigarettes and sweat inside? Check and check.
More surprising is the dress code. Sunglasses, jumpsuits and beards are the order of the day for the band (the drummer’s facial hair in particular could make Castro envious), with the exception of one man with a Village People-style handlebar moustache, whose role is initially unclear. For much of the evening he contents himself with the occasional cryptic utterance between songs and a bizarre martial arts dance routine during them, but he later takes turns on both guitar and keyboard.
Given the venue and style of the gig, the set list is mainly what you’d expect – the faster, more rocky side of Everett’s repertoire, but there are a few less conventional choices too, most notably a number of cover versions, including Frank Sinatra’s ‘That’s Life’. These seem to be fairly well-received by the capacity crowd, though perhaps with mild bemusement. Songs from most recent album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, like opening number The Other Shoe, go down rather better, though old favourites like ‘Souljacker Part I’ and ‘Rags To Rags’ unsurprisingly provoke the liveliest response. Equally well-received, however, are the few deliberately understated tunes on the set list (‘Railroad Man’ and the unambiguously if cumbersomely titled ‘I’m Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn’t Break Your Heart’, to name but two). These are performed either solo or with only the bare minimum of support from the rest of the band, to breathtaking effect.
Perhaps best of all, though, were those songs that were arranged so as to have radical differences to their album counterparts. ‘Last Stop: This Town’, a lovely vignette of bereavement, is shorn of its second vocalist and violin part, and a keyboard largely replaces the guitar. Stripped down like this, the song feels exposed and raw, and is all the more powerful for that. By contrast, ‘My Beloved Monster’, normally a tender romantic number, is played at a rousing tempo, with an almost punk feel to it. ‘I Like Birds’, played at the close of the first encore, is the true climax of the evening however. On the album Daisies of the Galaxy it’s one of the lighter, easier-on-the-ear tracks but here it’s played at breakneck speed, at full volume, with the crowd – at long last – pogoing and yelling along. That a rendition of ‘Saturday Morning’ as a final curtain call with the house lights up can’t quite match it does nothing to ruin a great gig.