Photography by Sapphire Mason Brown

Somerset House is a very special place to be in London. Its courtyard provides an environment that lets you feel that you're being benefited with a cultural experience in the open air of the city, without the interruption of passing cars, police barricades and people complaining that the street has been shut down for the sake of a gig or film screening. This space was due to begin a short season of film screenings and had been holding lectures within its complex, in the Courtauld institute, but just a few hours after that night's lecture on social media and galleries, people gathered in front of a little stage that had been squeezed into the cobbled forum.

I say forum, because it became an evening of exchanges of remarks between the band and the audience about smiles, penguins, Ringo Starr and most frequently of all, beards. Yes, Eels played a mixed set of hits and recent releases, switching between feel-good brass jams, hard rock, cheesy band member introductions, still silhouette displays and frustrating strobe lighting, but all the audience could truly express their joy and appreciation for was the beard factor that the band possessed.


This gave the gig the atmosphere of watching a film with friends that you've all seen several times before, so you've decided to make commentary and remarks on your favourite scenes. This is not to say that Eels were predictable; they of course, play completely differently live to on record. They place a lot more emphasis on their guitars… Well, that's difficult to avoid seeming as they had three of them… but different songs had different impacts. They opened with 'Flyswatter', replacing the introduction's quiet glockenspiel with flamboyant brass, and 'I Like Birds' was transformed from something soft and twee to a punk song. Although this is a review written from a first-time viewer's perspective, it seems they don't play a song the same way twice either. 'Last Stop: This Town' was anticipated to be played with an assault of the triple guitar distortion that it has been played with on live recordings. Instead they delivered it with the studio recording's similar tranquility.

Judging from this experience, it seems that when you go to see Eels live you are going to go down two routes; noticing and appreciating the changes in song arrangements being one, and the other being the engagement with friends and neighbours in comparing each member to known celebrities, imagining them in a surreal fashion as penguins, or of course, making a huge fuss about how impressive their beards are.