Eels August 6, 2011 First Avenue, Minneapolis
Mark Oliver Everett (or just plain E to his fans), the one constant member of Eels, is the very definition of enigma. Over the course of 15 years Eels has taken on many genres, various tones, and dealt with things both great and small with equal intensity and insight. The current incarnation is filled with mostly blues-tinged rock, features a stellar horn section and deals lyrically in the ups and downs of relationships. The concept album trilogy, as it's known (2009's Hombre Lobo and last year's End Times and Tomorrow Morning), figured heavily into Saturday night's set, though the setlist was culled from the entire discography. And there were a couple of fun surprises along the way, as well.[jump]
Part of enjoying an Eels show is the anticipation about what, exactly, to expect. Last time through town, in support of End Times, Everett toured with just his guitarist, the Chet (known to the IRS as Jeff Lyster), and handed out ice cream to the crowd, presumably to lighten the mood as he toured behind a beautiful, but emotionally crushing album. No such goofiness took place Saturday, though to be sure Everett (who was sporting gold fronts for some reason) had some stellar zingers along the way, and the band all sported sunglasses and beards that made Fleet Foxes look like amateurs.
They opened with "Flyswatter" from 2000's Daisies of the Galaxy and "That's Not Really Funny" from 2001's Souljacker before doing an appropriately Eels-tinged cover of Sly and the Family Stone's "Hot Fun in the Summertime." As the band dug their heels in and offered up "Prizefighter" a few songs later, it was obvious that Eels is a band that--while great on record--needs to be seen live to be fully enjoyed. There is an extra gear the band seemed to shift into on Saturday that isn't present in recorded form, and it was immensely enjoyable to watch. "Tremendous Dynamite" was particularly stunning, standing out as the highlight against a nearly two-hour set of non-stop, flat-out awesome rock 'n roll.
There was a long, humorous introduction of all the band members, all of whom have aliases just like Everett, including drummer Knuckles and guitarist P-Boo, which then gave over into Knuckles singing a song about himself, which wasn't great but, to be fair, that was sort of the point. After much introspection--and in End Times, a full album's-worth of sadness and grief--Everett and company seem ready to have fun again. Toward the end of the proper set (there were two subsequent encores) "Novocaine For The Soul," the band's first and still biggest hit, finally surfaced but in a slightly different format. Everett sings in a different register and the band has a different style now, and it was fun to see that "Novocaine" has been very easily assimilated into the new style, losing none of its initial appeal and actually slightly improved. "Losing Streak" ended the main set, and though its upbeat tone would have been enough to convince us that Everett is going to be ok, he still had some things left to say.
The encores, which sometimes can wade into "dragging it out" territory--especially when there are multiple curtain calls--did no such thing Saturday. They began with "It's A Motherfucker" from Daises and reached back to 1998's Electro-Shock Blues for "P.S., You Rock My World." That could have been it and it would have been perfect, but after a few noisy, cheer-filled minutes complete with chants of "E! E! E!" the band came out and threw down a positively scorching version of "Fresh Blood," complete with seizure-inducing flashing lights with the stage bathed in a red glow, and finally walked away after the gospel-tinged "Looking Up," which was most likely the best statement of the night. Everett had been on a dark path for a few years, influenced by a break-up that he is still unwilling to talk about in concrete terms and maybe never will, but it was obvious that he is now in a much better place. At peace with whatever demons he has, for now.
Critic's Bias: I absolutely hated "Novocaine For The Soul" when it came out in 1996, but now it's one of my favorite Eels songs. Finding out that the band still plays it live was a wonderful surprise. The Crowd: Far more tattoos and piercings than expected; far fewer beards than expected. Overheard In The Crowd: "Does everyone have to have a beard and sunglasses to play in this band?" Random Notebook Dump: Gold fronts paired with a hobo beard make an odd combination.
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