Say what you will about Mark Oliver Everett, the guy is consistent. No matter how bright the sun might shine, Everett will escape to the darkest shadow of doubt – never believing that everything might actually turn out alright in the long run. It’s only been a year since he released Wonderful, Glorious to the world and the light at the end of the 50 year tunnel of sadness has already been extinguished. The man who calls himself E has been “going through a rough patch lately” – a patch so rough that all songs from the uplifting (in an Eels sorta way) tracks from the previous album have been completely eliminated from the current tour. That’s not to say it was all suicide-inducing sadness on Wednesday night, but as the new album warns, it was chalk full of Cautionary Tales.
It had been a hard week for me personally, and even though it was only Wednesday night, I was exhausted. So much so that I made the choice to sell my tickets to the show. I had been listening to Eels for a few days and had decided I did not have the mental strength or capacity to act as E’s shrink for another minute. Back in 2005 I went through some shit. Blinking Lights and Other Revelations helped me put that shit in perspective. Sure, I was unhappy, but it would have taken a submarine for me to travel from my level of depression to the depths in which E was traveling. That album will always be one my favorites of all time, and I like sad music when I am feeling low, but as I worked my way through the Eels discography this week, I just felt that I couldn’t take all the honesty. It was just too much.
But when I’m in a bad mood I become extremely indecisive. So there I was, buying a replacement ticket at the box office at The Gothic just in time for the show.
Chelsea Wolfe was the deciding factor. Having seen this artist share a stage with acts as diverse as How To Dress Well, Deafheaven, King Dude, and True Widow, I was curious to see how an Eels crowd would respond to her acoustic set of dark folk music. I also have a personal connection to Chelsea. I have followed her trajectory from a veiled hermit of sorts, to a fashion, film, and music personality who has touched thousands of people across the globe with a subtly seductive demeanor that refuses to be ignored. She was my first interview for this blog and I have spent time speaking with her in multiple venues in multiple cities over the past few years. Wednesday night was one of her unique ‘with strings’ performances, which trade the power of her full band for something quieter, yet still uncompromising. Still refusing to be exposed on the stage, Chelsea cloaked herself in black, lit only by a few candles – nothing but a shadow and whispers to let us know she was alive. Andrea Calderon provided support, as she commanded her violin to speak the same language as Chelsea; while longtime collaborator, Ben Chisholm, helped coalesce the sounds into a form a delicate doom.
The set was equally balanced with material from Unknown Rooms and Pain Is Beauty — which was a little disappointing to someone who named Apokalypsis the #1 album of 2011 – but the absence of older material did nothing to temper the strength of the spell they cast on those assembled in front of the stage. I’m not sure they won over the Eels crowd, and I do question the choice to pair the two, but Chelsea Wolfe always draws a crowd of her own…and as the candles were extinguished for the night, their light was transferred to the eyes of the witnesses gathered before them.
Sometimes I wonder if everything E does is an act. It’s public knowledge that the man has experienced his share (and your share and her share and their share) of loss in his life, but sometimes I think the ‘pathetic sad sack’ is just a stage persona. And honestly, the persona doesn’t even seem all that sad. It’s more in line with a self-deprecating comedian. Mark Oliver Everett is the Louie C.K. of indie rock music. So it was that every time he directly addressed the crowd on Wednesday night, it was with facetious remarks that walked a fine line between warmth and scorn. The first of these comments came after “Parallels” — the audience took advantage of a short pause in the set to start yelling out requests from the Eels eleven studio albums, to which E replied “This isn’t really a rock concert, so get it out now…yell stupid shit”, followed by “I hope you’re in the mood for a sweet, sweet bummer”. A girl in the audience missed her cue and yelled out another request as the band was already on the road to “Mansions of Los Feliz”, causing E to remind her that the time for yelling stupid shit was over. And that is how is went all night, as E transitioned himself from the mic-stand to the piano and back through a run a 20+ songs from his entire career. There were “bummer(s)”, “total bummer(s)”, and “next level bummer(s)” — yet with the help of P-Boo on brass, Honest Al on upright bass, The Chet on the sad machine (pedal steel) and Knuckles on drums, they became the rockingest, jazziest, bestest bummers of all time. There might have only been five guys up there, but they had enough equipment on the stage to outfit a marching band — and they knew how to use all of it.
Any fears I had about this being a depressing show went out the front door with the one-two punch of “Fresh Feeling” and “I Like Birds” — two upbeat numbers that really let the band shine. Even E admitted to feeling better, as he gave each member words of encouragement, “great job on that one, Chet”, before heading into the next selection. But it wasn’t until after “Where I’m From” that he turned to the crowd for some encouragement of his own. For the next few minutes, E worked his way across the main floor, hugging it out with anyone willing — finding comfort in the arms of strangers. It was a perfect move to give the audience a little something extra, but it was also at this point that I couldn’t help but think back to Chelsea Wolfe’s set — how the hell did those two get slotted for a tour together?
In speaking to people before Eels set, I came to the conclusion that everyone in attendance was a huge Eels fan, but that they all had a different reason for being so. Almost every album was listed as being a favorite, yet no one seemed to be educated on more than a handful. Someone threw out Hombre Lobo as life-changing, while the guy who was obsessed Electro-Shock Blues admitted he had never heard it. Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is my personal favorite, but when I mentioned it to the girl who drove from Wyoming for the show, she didn’t recognize the title. Many people said they were shocked when they realized he had released five albums over the past five years. I took off before speaking to anyone after the show, but I have to wonder what they thought of the setlist. My guess is that everyone left the show satisfied. He threw in enough songs from each album that everyone got a taste of what they wanted, but I found myself enjoying the songs I didn’t recognize as much as those that have been stitched into my subconscious. Each song is a story and E is a master storyteller. So it really doesn’t matter what album you like the best, or what song means the most to you — when the Eels are performing live, every song is a treat.
Here’s to hoping that E gets through this current rough patch and finds a little solace in life before the next one. Here’s to hoping he continues to channel the good, the bad and the ugly into performances like the one on Wednesday night. I was afraid the man would damper my already shitty mood with his cautionary tales, but instead, he provided great catharsis disguised as a rock concert.
House of Metal
When You Wish Upon a Star
Mansions of Los Feliz
My Timing Is Off
A Line in the Dirt
Where I’m From
It’s a Motherfucker
A Daisy Through Concrete
Grace Kelly Blues
I Like Birds
My Beloved Monster
Mistakes of My Youth
Where I’m Going
I Like the Way This Is Going
Blinking Lights (For Me)
Last Stop: This Town
Can’t Help Falling in Love
Turn On Your Radio