The question in Mark Eitzel’s closing number – “Who’s pulling my strings?” – seemed sadly, suddenly, answered by its refrain and title, Bad Liquor.
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It was an old American Music Club number he’d previously started then abruptly aborted, muttering “F**k this shit” before stumbling offstage, nearly tripping over his jettisoned guitar en route – after only 45 minutes. Though he did come back and finish the song in memorably splenetic style, it left a somewhat sour taste from what was otherwise a largely compelling, fascinating show.
“Largely”, because Eitzel’s extravagantly soul-baring, gloom-revelling lyrics and performance style did frequently walk the fine line that divides compelling from overblown, and occasionally sprawled across it. In the main, though, his eloquent equipoise between disparate emotional ingredients – romantic sweep and mordant wryness (We All Have to Find Our Own Way Out), seething bile and anguished sorrow (Patriot’s Heart), abject desperation and social satire (Oh Mercy) – was triumphantly sustained by his utter conviction and vivid wordcraft, along with the potency of his capacious, volatile baritone voice.
Taut, responsive backing from an unnamed three-piece band, on piano, upright bass and drums, continued the double-edged theme, often setting Eitzel’s savagely dark sentiments against bright chord colours and springy beats, while another standout number, I Love You But You’re Dead hauntingly telescoped youthful reminiscence with hard-earned sagacity.