Concert Reviews

Eels Never Play the Same Show Twice

Eels/Chelsea Wolfe Annette Strauss Square 5/19/2014

I have seen Mark Oliver Everett and his rotating band of anonymous indie rockers several times now. Not once, in all of these times, have I heard the same song. Sure, I've literally heard the same song a few times. But it's never been played in an identical style once. There are bands that trot the globe for decades playing their songs in the same way, with the same parts, night after night. That's not for Mr. E. One shot on each tour, and it's back home to entirely rearrange his back catalog into a different genre of music.

The Eels have been here twice in the last year. 2013 saw them at the Granada, all clad in matching tracksuits, not a piano in sight, playing a raucous set of straightforward rock. Last night, the same band played the outdoor environs of Annette Strauss Square wearing suits and peddling the softest, quietest version of their music possible. There was barely even a drum to be seen. There was way more slide guitar and xylophone than there was drums. And yet several of the same songs, pulled from Eels' ginormous back catalog, made the cut in both sets.

It's kind of amazing, and it's difficult to work out the motivation. Does Everett think we'll get bored? I'm pretty sure there's a decent subset of people my age that would pay right out the butt to hear them just play their first two or three albums forever, in the same style they were recorded. Does Everett get easily bored? Perhaps, although he has still essentially spent 20 years playing the same songs, which, despite the rearrangements, doesn't suggest a man uncomfortable with his back catalog.

Instead, it has more of an air of "Why the fuck not?" about the whole endeavor. Once, I saw E. and his longtime guitar player, the Chet, knock out an entire 90-minute show as a two-piece, across 10 or more different instruments. They've toured with a string section as an acoustic six-piece. They've toured as a four-man stoner rock group, back in 2003 after the release of Souljacker. The first time I saw them, a three-piece bashed out a more-than-passable rendition of "Get Ur Freak On." So why not?

The whole notion of a show is something of a joke to Everett. Not so much a joke, I suppose, as something that doesn't really make sense, or doesn't have a structure that should necessarily be followed. Renowned for poking fun at the notion of an encore, last night saw him bring out a ladder, climb down from the stage to hug the crowd while the rest of the crowd applauded a bowing backing band, then ascend the ladder to declare that actually, it was now time for an encore.

The show was peppered with such silly incidents, and seemed to be themed around Everett slowly cheering up, teasing a more upbeat set that didn't really arrive until about 10 songs in, when he declared he was finally feeling happier now, and proceeded to bash out a joyful trio of old classics: "Daisy Through Concrete," "Fresh Feeling" and "Grace Kelly Blues," which, although noticeably upbeat, were still played in something of a lounge style and never really allowed to kick free.

Before that, the set was about as relaxed and quiet as a set can be. Longtime favorite "It's a Motherfucker" was wheeled out alongside several downbeat new songs, despite Everett saying he was "feeling so good these days I even let the guys ride on the same bus as me." Given this, the show was particularly slow to get going, if somewhat relaxing. Indeed, it felt like a peak never really came, in the sense that usually such a slow, relaxed pace builds up to a crescendo of some sort -- if not in a song, then in a setlist.

Such a build-up doesn't have to happen, of course, and after a chilled version of "Last Stop: This Town" that felt like the gateway to the all-out finish one might have expected, we were left right at the end with two slow, quiet, glistening covers: Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love" and Harry Nilsson's "Turn On Your Radio."

Next time round Eels will probably be a four-piece Kraftwerk tribute. I'm hoping for the return of circa-2000 jazz band Eels, but we may never see those days again. Whatever it is, I'll be there, because I can't wait to hear the same old songs in a brand-new style. What a bunch of weirdos.

Special shout out The man that talked loudly to his friend the whole way through a beautiful Chelsea Wolfe set about his new bathroom conversion, complete with a slideshow on his phone where he took his friend, and by extension the surrounding three rows, on a guided tour through his new fittings, deserves a new ring of Hell constructed entirely for him.

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Gavin Cleaver
Contact: Gavin Cleaver

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