Eels | Fox Theatre, Boulder | 06.07.06

The son of a well-known quantum physicist, E creates a live show that is chaos theory personified.


Never leave an eels show until you are told to. House lights can come up. Music can play on the P.A. But until someone physically carries you out of the venue, until you actually see equipment being packed up and leaving the stage, don't even think about leaving.

Eels is Mark Oliver Everett, or simply E. The son of a well-known quantum physicist, E creates a live show that is chaos theory personified. Eccentric, quirky, reticent, bizarre, and with a dedication to artistic integrity, he is indie rock's Brian Wilson. If Andy Kaufman was a band, he'd be eels.

Consider the opener for the tour, Smoosh. Handpicked by E himself, Smoosh is a preadolescent duo of 14-year-old singer/keyboardist Asya and her 12-year-old drumming sister Chloe who plays the crap out of her set, Dave Grohl style. Certainly they seem little more than the indie younger sisters of Hanson, but they're on the greatest summer vacation ever-opening for seminal emo rockers eels.

While it was odd to drink beer in front of Smoosh, as if morally contributing to the delinquency of a minor, the evening was about to hit hyperspace on the odd meter. See, that's an eels show. It's Kaufman-esque. Thus we get the PA greeting: "Ladies and Gentleman, please turn your cell phones…on!"

Eels thrives on reverse psychology.

An eels live show, like their album catalogue, possesses multi-personalities. An example of split personalities is the latest studio release, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, a double disc concept album which E had been working on for years. Frustrated with Blinking's slow progress, E electrified for a year and released the quicker tempo but shallower disc Shootenanny! in 2003. Yet the operatic Blinking Lights, a pseudo-spiritual satire, lingered in the background until completion in 2005. The disc, full of terms of endearment dedicated to E's dysfunctional extended family, serves to make the Royal Tenenbaums look like the Cleavers.

Historically speaking, eels' studio releases have alternated schizophrenically between dark and solemn discs and brighter and (dare I say) happier tones and moods. Live, eels is another personality altogether. The recent live offering, With Strings: Live at Town Hall, exhibits a musical pastiche: garage grunge, heavy blues, orchestrated arrangements, cacophonous songs. E has said he has no desire to arrogantly display his musical knowledge. "I'm not doing different things to try to dazzle the audience with my wide horizons," says the man the New Yorker describes as "a hyper talented misfit." "There's just some stuff in me that needs to come out."

Reeling off set openers "The Other Shoe" and "Old Shit/New Shit"-two Blinking gems-and through a busy set of 27 songs book-ended by covers of Iggy Pop's "Rock Show" and Sinatra's "That's Life," E still found time to included set regulars "Souljacker Part 1," "My Beloved Monster," and "Last Stop: This Town." Sadly omitted from the set were "Novocaine for the Soul" and "Grace Kelly Blues," yet blistering Blinking tracks substituted quite nicely for these omissions. The Uncle Tupelo-like "Railroad Man" and the heavenly contemplative "I'm Going to Stop Pretending," exhibits E playing the anti-hero to such a degree that even Holden Caulfield would crack a smile. Other notables were "Rags to Riches" from 1996's Beautiful Freaks and Shootenanny!'s stage shaker "Dirty Girl."

Aside from the music, an eels show is a wild ride, and to explain the early exit nonsense aforementioned, bizarre acts of kindness plagued the show. E's personal stage assistant Crazy Al foamed whipped cream into random audience members' mouths during an encore which included the interesting juxtaposition of Smoosh sock-hopping to "Cancer for the Cure," "I Like Birds," and the profanity-laced "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues."

But here is where it gets interesting. Houselights come up. P.A. plays after-show music. Audience leaves. Save for a few who watch roadies who don't move a muscle except to realign microphone stands. Some wait for the stage to be struck down. And after what seemed like an eternal 10 minutes, E comes back for two more: "Saturday Night" and "Son of a Bitch," under the heavy glare of house lights. I imagine that it was simply poetic for E to watch the audience pour back in to the theater. Never leave an eels show early.

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