Folk rock, blues rock, hard rock, psych rock, surf rock, soft rock, punk rock, alt rock. Eels brought all of it to Canton Hall on Sunday evening in their triumphant return to Dallas.
Under the guidance of Mark Oliver Everett, otherwise known by his stage name “E,” Eels played a career-spanning set with a refreshed take on many fan favorites, some surprising covers and new material that got the crowd moving.
Coming onto the stage with the theme from Rocky playing and air-horns blowing simultaneously, the band began the night on a blues-rock note, playing “Out in the Street” and “Mississippi Delta,” cover songs by The Who and Bobbie Gentry, respectively.
Keeping up with the short string of covers, Eels gave the audience a determinedly danceable rendition of “Raspberry Beret” — one of Prince’s best known songs — which E delivered with just the right amount of funk and talk-singing, making the song somehow 100% Prince and 100% Eels.
You would think that a band and frontman as enigmatic would maintain the same kind of mystery on stage, but E showed himself to be an engaging showman, playfully teasing Game of Thrones spoilers, purposely getting the city’s name wrong and beckoning the audience to cheer at the question, “Are you ready to soft rock!?” for the night’s more subdued moments.
On hearing the opening notes of “Flyswatter” from the 2000 release Daisies of the Galaxy, the audience gave their first big cheers of the night and witnessed the rare occurrence of a frontman trading in his cowbell for what can only be described as a double cowbell.
Claiming, “I’m old as fuck, and I still rock. What am I going to do? Not rock?” E led the audience through a series of songs escalating in intensity, from the soft rock of “I Need Some Sleep” to the waltzing blues version of fan favorite “Prizefighter.”
As the waving intensity of the evening ramped back up, E picked up the guitar, the castanets, maracas and tambourine while dancing his way through several new and old songs and a cover of “She Said Yeah” by The Rolling Stones.
Realizing that he had done his band a bit of a disservice with a short introduction early in the set, E took the time to introduce each member of the band by telling the audience their sign and telling an interesting or embarrassing fact about them — like how guitarist The Chet (aka Jeff Lyster) lost his virginity to the sweet sounds of Rush’s 1978 album Hemispheres.
Little Joe, the band’s drummer, came equipped with his own theme song — presumably called “Little Joe” — which had all the pop fun of a 1970s sitcom theme song. Eels biggest hit, “Novocain for the Soul,” was given a new treatment as the band played with a heavier, sludgier sound than one remembers of the 1996 heavy-rotator.
One would imagine that the band would have all of rock’s subgenres covered at this point, but then came an all-out punk-rock version of the group's “I Like Birds."
Ending the night with a studio-quality performance of the uplifting swan song from 1998’s heartbreaking Electro-Shock Blues, “P.S. You Rock My World,” Eels would come back for not one, but two encore sets playing their most popular songs.
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Leading off with the ubiquitous soundtrack song, “Fresh Feeling,” Eels went on to play their most cynically optimistic song “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” with its chorus “Goddamn right it’s a beautiful day” as well as “Fresh Blood,” best known from its use as the intro song to the HBO series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.
Signing off with a medley of “Love and Mercy,” “Blinking Lights (For Me)” and “Wonderful, Glorious,” E exited the stage paying homage to Prince, Pete Townshend, Brian Wilson and Ringo Starr, saying, “turns out The Beatles were wrong. Love isn’t all you need. You need mercy too.”
Ending appropriately with The Beatles’ “The End” without their lead singer present, Eels had brought their audience through the whole spectrum of what rock music has been and what it has become since E first got his hands on it more than 25 years ago.
Young and old alike shared the floor of Eels return to Dallas, and all in attendance witnessed what E described as “a stunning display of badassery.”