Saturday, February 23, 2013

Eels/Nicole Atkins; February 23, 2013; The Vic, Chicago

For a band that could be dismissed as a one hit wonder (1996‘s ubiquitous “Novocain for the Soul”), the eels sure do put on a hell of a show. Other than the pretty if slightly sleepy “Eels with Strings” tour they did following the release of Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, every show I’ve seen has been ridiculously high energy. Lead singer and mastermind behind the eels, Mark Oliver Everett (otherwise known as E), is as much a ringleader for these shows as he is a band member. This was as close to normal as I’d seen him look in a long time, there was no Unabomber beard or odd headgear. The sunglasses remained, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve seen him without, if I ever have. The rest of the band also wore Wayfarers, and like E, instead of the orange prison jumpsuits they’d been wearing the last few tours, this time they all wore matching Adidas track suits and shoes. No wonder they could play so long.

The show featured many of the songs from the new record Wonderful Glorious released only a couple weeks before. “Bombs Away” and “Peach Blossom” are two of the grungier songs from that record that make an impression live despite not having much to say. As much as I love the eels, the double disc Blinking Lights was the last record that really had any substance to it. Everything since has been solid enough and certainly listenable, but completely unmemorable. This record seems an improvement, but maybe I just gave it more time. It has more energy than the three that preceded it, but doesn’t quite reach the level of fuzzed out noise that Souljacker nailed. That record’s “Dog Faced Boy” continues to be a live favorite. Sadly, many of the earlier records were left out of the set list. No self-respecting eels’ fan expects to hear “Novocain,” but it’s been ages since I’ve heard anything from the brilliant follow-up Electroshock Blues, whose “Next Stop This Town” may be the best song he’s ever done.

I once saw an eels show where the first three or four songs were all covers, leading me to think that maybe he wasn’t going to do any original songs at all. He did of course, but the covers have always been a high point of their show. Tonight we got “Hypnotize Me,” the most un-Fleetwood Mac sounding Fleetwood Mac song there is. Totally awesome, and a perfect choice. E doesn’t seem like one to care about trends; apparently neither does his management who told him that “mash-ups were all the rage.” Not only are they so five years ago, they obviously didn’t explain that it was when you mash up songs by different artists, not two of your own songs. Still, it was a good excuse to play oldies “My Beloved Monster” and “Goddamn Right, It’s a Beautiful Day” as a medley.

I’d first seen guitarist “The Chet” on the Blinking Lights tour where he added some comic relief to the heaviness of the strings, at one point playing a cardboard box. Apparently he’d been with E even longer than that, and since this was their ten year anniversary they decided to renew their vows. "Do you Chet take E to be your lead singer?” and “D you E take Chet to be your guitarist?” Silly, yes, but that’s what’s to be expected from an eels show.

The show was over, the lights were up and people were filing out when the band returned to the stage, playing a few more songs as the crew continued to break down equipment around them. Or at least they pretended to. Hard to know, it might have been a way to get around curfew, or just another oddity from the mind of E.

Nicole Atkins


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