Watching a physics lecture, with a cold beer in hand, in a sea of Eels fans was a slightly surreal experience - surreal but good. As instead of a support band, The Eels kicked off their concert with the BBC award winning documentary "Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives".
With the usual mosh pit at Mandela replaced by row upon row of chairs, the whole gig experience was quite a civilised affair. And although the sold out audience were all captivated by the projected dialogue on screen, I couldn't help but feel we were watching that BBC2 history program "Who Do You Think You Are?" (Even if I do admit to being a fan of the show).
The documentary followed lead singer Mark Everett's quest to learn more about his late father, Hugh Everett; a world renowned physicist who came up with the ground breaking theory of parallel worlds. It was a moving piece that revealed the trauma and experiences which coloured E's life as a young boy and teenager. However, humour was never long out of the picture, with scenes of E calling out to his dead parents in a grave yard, to us being shown around his pet dog's bedroom. This is where E's wry sense of humour really shone through.
The intimacy created in the documentary set the tone for the rest of the gig, and E came on stage in what looked to be a stripy boiler suit and a cap. Alone on stage with nothing but his electric guitar for company, E kicked off the set with a solo rendition of "A Magic World" followed by "It's a Motherf**ker" on piano - his matter of factness piercing through the crowd leaving no room for delusion. Chatting sparingly to the audience he reveals that he's missed picking up the Royal Television Society award in London that night, to play in Belfast, promising to the crowd that since it's taken him 17 years to play in Belfast he'll be back amusingly before another 17 years is up.
Then "the Chet" makes an appearance in a matching boiler suit, and from then on it is a pared down affair. Playing hits from E's solo work: Strawberry Blonde to the Eels top 10 hit "Novacaine for the soul". The instrumental versatility of both musicians was fascinating to watch. As while E moved from piano to a number of different guitars, the Chet went from playing the drums, to a saw like instrument, which created an almost haunting sound.
Throughout the night the Chet also read excerpts from E's autobiography sharing what it was like for E to meet Angie Dickinson on his arrival into LA, to his disappointment when she never called. The readings added a sense of depth to the music and really added to the overall experience of the night.
The finale for me was when the duo played "Flyswatter," where mid-way E got up from the piano, ran over to the Chet on drums, took over the drum sticks and continued to play without missing a beat, while the Chet was delegated to the piano. After swapping over again, they gradually faded the song out to rapturous applause.
Overall it was a refreshingly intimate night of music, however I couldn't help feeling it would have been nice if the duo had been joined by another musician or two at the end of the night, to really build up the energy on stage - though for The Eels music perhaps less is more. Moreover, the bouquet of flowers thrown out to the audience at the end of the duo's second encore added a lovely wedding feel to the whole affair.