Eels at First Avenue, 2/22/13
Photo By Erik Hess
With Nicole Atkins
First Avenue, Minneapolis
February 22, 2013
Eels were clearly in a playful and feisty Friday night mood at First Avenue, a point proven by the matching blue Adidas tracksuits and sunglasses that frontman Mark Oliver Everett and the rest of the group sported onstage, the many hugs shared between band members throughout the show, as well as the spirited material on offer throughout the performance which was augmented by E's jocular between song banter.
It all amounted to a riveting and revealing 105-minute set that kept the surprises coming straight until the end, drawing liberally from throughout Eels distinct back catalog while focusing on their just-released new album, Wonderful, Glorious.
The set began with a prerecorded announcement, as a female voice introduced them, "And here they are, ladies and gentlemen. Hold onto your hat." Drummer Knuckles then settled in behind his kit, situated prominently on a riser at the front of the stage, as he laid down a beat while the rest of the group joined him. Guitarists The Chet and P-Boo flanked bassist Koool G Murder on a riser towards the back, while E himself ascended what he humorously referred to as the "lead singer riser," leading the group through a raucous take on "Bombs Away" which opened the show strongly, with E comically 'playing' a rain stick during the brief quiet moments of the song.
A rollicking, Beatles-esque take on "Kinda Fuzzy" quickly followed, with E exclaiming, "Aw yeah! That felt good. Success!" before demanding a hug from Koool G for his terrific bass playing on the track. A lively "Open My Present" kept the energy level high, but it was a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" which really lit the night's fuse, as both the Chet and P-Boo energetically shredded away on the crunchy riffs of the familiar classic rock staple. Again, E was pleased with his band, and wanted an immediate hug from the Chet, a sense of unity that would continue throughout the performance.
A vibrant run through of "Tremendous Dynamite" continued the dynamic start, before E slowed things down with a bluesy take on "Accident Prone" as the show downshifted for a lengthy subdued section. A poignant version of "On the Ropes" was a clear highlight of the somber, vulnerable portion of the show, with E calling out the fine work of his other guitarist afterward. "Very tasteful picking, P-Boo. Come over here and give me a hug." That affection and generous feeling of camaraderie permeated each and every song the band played, and easily transferred to the audience as well, as we all got swept up in the raw emotions on display throughout the exuberant performance.
Photos By Erik Hess
After an impassioned rendition of "Dirty Mouth," E joked, "Good one, me! Why doesn't anyone ever hug me?" He went on to ask the crowd, "Who likes flowers? Why don't we do a couple nice flower songs on a beautiful spring evening like this." Tender takes on "Flower" and "Peach Blossom" quickly followed, but the set was getting a bit sleepy at this point, and needed another spark. At the end of "Trouble With Dreams," E's edgy guitar work seemed to provide a jolt, one that the group only build upon as "The Turnaround" drew to a cacophonous close.
"Another Alphabet" had a welcome sinister churn to it as the set fully snapped to life, but it was the buoyant pop bounce of "Fresh Feeling" which proved to be a standout of the show. After a sparkling take on "The Sound of Fear," E genuinely proclaimed: "This is fun! I'm comfy! Now you know why we recorded both discs of our live album here in this room -- we love this place! That's not shameless pandering, it's just simple appreciation. It's good to see all of you, that's what I'm trying to say." That statement just furthered the deep connection the audience already had with E and his band, as the crowd was clearly identifying with his anguished anthems of being heartbroken, lonely, or down-and-out.
E then humorously stopped the show, taking a moment to "formally introduce the band that I've been hugging periodically tonight." When he got to introducing the Chet, the crowd was chanting for him emphatically, something that wasn't lost on E. "Lots of dudes calling out for the Chet tonight," and when one particularly boisterous fan wouldn't let up, E teased him, "Dude, shut up. We get it. You love the Chet. Hang around the bus later and see what happens." But E got a bit serious for a moment, touching on his long history with his guitarist. "The Chet and I have been rocking around the world for ten long years now. Let's make it official tonight -- let's renew our vows." And, as the Chet joined E on the 'lead-singer riser,' the pair renewed their creative vows to each other, a partnership that hopefully continues another 10 years.
Photos By Erik Hess
"So, that just happened. That was quite emotional," joked E as the ceremony drew to a close with an impromptu cover of "Wind Beneath My Wings." He went on to finish the intros by teasing drummer Knuckles by saying "he constantly is writing songs that sing the praises of himself." And as proof, the drummer led the band through "Go Knuckles!" which sounded pretty similar to the old MTV theme. After that humorous interlude, the band got back to playing 'real' songs with another surprising cover, a vigorous take on "Itchycoo Park" by Small Faces. It really brought some focus back to the talented band, and they closed the main set with an explosive rendition of "Souljacker Part 1" and a vivid run through of "Wonderful, Glorious," with E explaining as the band left the stage, "By law we can't play another song."
The long ovation swelled until the band eventually retook the stage for the encore, with E admitting, "I was wrong -- it is legal for us to play some more. Thank you very much, everyone. It's lovely to see you again." And with that, the band eased into a touching take on "I'm Your Brave Little Soldier." But this encore was dominated by an incendiary blending of "My Beloved Monster" with "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues," a lethal musical combination that really rocked the house. As the crowd cheered their approval, E exclaimed, "We did it! That was a lot of fun. I'd like to invite all of the Eels onto the lead singer riser for a group hug." After that triumphant show of solidarity, the band left the stage once again.
But the crowd wouldn't let the night end that way, and continued to cheer for more. The band eventually reappeared, with E admitting, "You're onto us -- we like doing this." The stage was then appropriately bathed in blood red lighting as E led the group through a howling take on "Fresh Blood," with blinding white strobe lights flickering as the song's raucous chorus kicked in. The entire band was adding their own twisted discord to the track's thunderous finish, as the song built to an untamed conclusion which saw the group off once again.
The band's crew then began dismantling the stage setup as most of the crowd filed out of the club, but the house lights never came on, leading some in the audience to think that the show wasn't really over just yet. And sure enough, five minutes later the band returned for a third encore, as they playfully kicked out their crew in order to play another song. The half-deserted main floor quickly filled up with fans who rushed back in once they heard the first rousing strains of "Dog Faced Boy."
It was one last unexpected musical treat for their fans, and a perfect way to bring the night to a close. As the group jubilantly reworked the earlier ode to Knuckles as "Go Eels!," E turned the lyrics around and instructed us all to finally "Go home!" And, after a show as good as that one, we were all ready to do whatever he told us to do.
Photo By Erik Hess
Personal Bias: In the early 2000's I discovered that an Eels show is not to be missed, a credo I continue to adhere to over ten years later -- and I haven't been disappointed yet.
The Crowd: A near full-house packed with fans who are also equally under E's musical spell.
Overheard In The Crowd: "We should all go out and buy some tracksuits right after the show."
Random Notebook Dump: The tour-only double live album Tremendous Dynamite was indeed recorded at the last two Eels shows at First Avenue in 2010 and 2011, a nice aural document of two fantastic shows in their own right.
Open My Present
Oh Well (Fleetwood Mac)
On The Ropes
Trouble With Dreams
The Sound Of Fear
Itchycoo Park (Small Faces)
Souljacker Part 1
I'm Your Brave Little Soldier (First Encore)
My Beloved Monster/Mr. E's Beautiful Blues (First Encore)
Fresh Blood (Second Encore)
Dog Faced Boy (Third Encore)
Go Eels! (Third Encore)
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