I'm a huge eels fan and I've seen them many times over the years. I’m especially a fan of the live show, it’s always different and it’s always wildly entertaining. The lone exception was a sit down show at the Park West years ago dubbed “The eels with Strings.” It certainly wasn’t bad, it was just nowhere near the over-the-top show I’d come to expect from them. So I was a little worried when I saw that this tour was going to be a “special seated show.” Either that translated to another sleepy show, or alternately, to low tickets sales and this was a ruse to make it look like more people were there. Neither was true. While I can’t vouch for sure on ticket sales, most of the seats on the lower level were full and we ended up seated back by the sound board. Though that might have been my friend’s plan all along, he insists by the sound board is the best sound in the house, and though he may be right, I’d rather be up close to the action. It was certainly a mellower show than some I’ve seen, it was no less enjoyable.
The biggest difference seemed to be the man named E himself. Previous incarnations of his stage self have always included a disguise. An aviator hat and glasses one time, or coveralls, head scarf, and dark glasses the next. Even the last time through, when he looked as close to normal as I’d ever seen him in a track suit that matched the rest of the band, he still wore the dark sunglasses. Tonight he looked like any other hip lead singer of an awesome rock band- suit, tie, and regular prescription glasses. How about that, he has eyes! Likewise, the new record The Cautionary Tale of Mark Oliver Everett seems to reveal more of E than past records, starting with the picture of him on the cover (again, eyes!). It doesn’t stand among his best releases ever, that will always be the trio of Electroshock Blues, Shootenanny, and Souljacker in my book, but it is a solid entry to his catalog.
The set drew heavily from the last several records as E moved between guitar and piano. Stand out tracks were “Last Stop This Town” from Electroshock and “I Like the Way this is Going,” both from the first encore. The former has for years been a mix-tape standard for me. Tonight’s gorgeous acoustic version, augmented by chimes and upright bass, couldn’t have been more different from the fuzzed out original, but it was no less awesome. The latter was the highlight of the idyllic Tomorrow Morning. It’s infinitely more optimistic than much of his material, and it was exactly how I was feeling. In the regular set, the highlight came just past the midpoint with the trio of “Fresh Feeling,” “I Like Birds,” and “My Beloved Monster,” all live standards. His regular backing band, who usually rock so hard, seemed just as comfortable on upright bass, pedal steel and playing with brushes. I always say mellow doesn’t always mean boring, tonight it definitely didn’t.
(Well, unless you were talking about the opening band.)