I’ve heard some folk call Mark Eitzel the best songwriter in the world today. While that might be moot there’s no doubting that over the course of thirty odd years he’s delivered some of the most powerful, stark and emotionally naked songs of his generation. The songs might be sweetened by his excellent warm honey toned voice (which has seen him covering classics from the American Songbook very successfully) and there was even a moment back in the early nineties when his band, American Music Club seemed about to breakthrough to the mainstream with the financial backing of Reprise and Virgin and their album Mercury. It was not to be however and AMC went into a hiatus with Eitzel setting off on his solo career which has seen him offering electronica, morbid folk songs and sweeping melodrama over the years. Tonight he’s solo and when he gangles onto the small stage looking quite limber for his 50 plus years he immediately is engaging with a wry, dark humour which is somewhat at odds with his awkward body language as he wrapped himself around his guitar. No matter as the moment he launches into I Love You But You’re Dead it’s apparent to all that we are in the hands of a bleak genius, Scott Walker meets Leonard Cohen, with the opening lines Let’s go toast the twilight at the old horror house setting the tone for much of the night although All My Love which followed allowed the audience a glimpse into the transcendent world of Eitzel with its dreamy delivery, his voice clear as a bell and his guitar work outstanding. A tortured rendition of I’ve Been A Mess was a fine example of Eitzel’s ability to transform his agonising into art, a genuinely pin drop moment as he transfixed the audience with his vocal contortions however his clown persona then surfaced as he noted that someone at his previous concert had tweeted that this was tuneless wailing before he went into a ribald story about pitching a song to Celine Dion’s handlers.
He then went on to dedicate the next song to the UK comedy character Mr. Humphries from Are You Being Served. Firefly was given full rein, powerful and dramatic with Eitzel straining at the leash but on the next song Eitzel, tied into his work, was thrown off course by the flash photography of an audience member to the extent that he stopped mid song and requested it stop. Full disclosure here that it was this reviewer who screwed up the momentum Eitzel had built up. He soon recovered and within a few songs was back on course but it did screw up my concentration to the extent that the rest of the night was a bit of a blur however I Spent The Last ten Years Trying To Waste a Half an Hour and a new song along with a crammed encore with a curfew in place again had the audience enthralled as Eitzel seemed to spill his soul out on stage. You can argue till the cows come home whether he’s the best but on this form he certainly is riveting.
Prior to Eitzel the show commenced with a short set from local hero Jim Dead who delivered his dry and dusty ballads with sombre guitar and bleak words, bleached and burned like a Peckinpah movie left out in the sun. Ally Kerr provided some Al Stewart like folk songs with a tender touch and fine accompaniment from violinist Caroline Evans.