About a year ago, Stella and I heard a tune on WMSE that really caught our ears. “Quick, get out the cell phone and call 799-1917 and ask the DJ who we’re listening to and what album is it from,” I told her as I negotiated traffic. She did, and the next day I was taking advantage of my amazon Prime trial membership to get the Eels’ “Souljacker” in our CD player in two days. I’ve since collected ‘em all – almost.
So earlier this week, although “Blinking Lights and Other Revelations” has been sitting on the dining room table for a month now, we finally popped it into the car CD player so we could learn all the songs in anticipation of tonight. “See, hon, they may not do all our favorite songs from Souljacker, because they’ve got a new album out, and usually when you’re on tour, they do songs from that. So we need to find our favorite songs from the new one. Then again, from what’ I’ve been reading, anything could happen.” And it did.
Stella listens to lots of different music, and it may be odd for an almost 8 year old to be into Eels, as some of the lyrical content may be a bit of a downer, and kids that age tend to like upbeat happy music. (Yes, we are going to take in American Idols Live next week.) But I’ve made it a point to play her interesting music so she’ll develop a taste for the good stuff and I won’t have to listen to Britney Spears (or whatever Prince/Princess of Pop Dreck is ruling the waves when she starts getting her period). It works. I had a cool big brother who played the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and everything in between, so that after reading Tiger Beat for months and finally running out and buying the “Fabulous New Donny and the Osmonds Album” and putting it on the turntable. I really really really wanted to like it, but, well, it was dreck. I put it back in the sleeve, rubbed out the scratch on “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite” and listened to Sgt Pepper for the umpteenth time and never looked back. (I still have the Osmonds “Homemade” if only for the kitchy fun of listening to five white guys in jumpsuits singing a tune called “Shuckin’ and Jivin’.”) The point being, a steady diet of the good stuff pretty much keeps mediocrity out of kids’ lives, and the fact that Stella lists the Twinemen, Jimi Hendrix, Blue Oyster Cult, Rasputina, David Bowie (all kids love Bowie, I’ve found!), Frank Black and of course, the Eels among her favorites, bears this out.
“Who’s this? I came to see the Eels,” she said, when two pre-teen girls took the stage at the Pabst theatre tonight. I explained that this was the opening act (she seems to have forgotten about how this opening act thing works) and that she might as well listen and see if she likes them. The two girls turned out to be Smoosh, a 14 year old on keyboards/synths, and her younger sister on drums. I bought their CD – they’re from Seattle, they’ve clearly got money behind them (hot legal agency listed in their credits) and they’re good. They’ll be even better when singer Avya’s voice matures, because after about 6 songs it got grating, but they write great little songs, they’re not afraid to experiment with unconventional rhythm and melodic arrangements, and at times, they flat out rock. Stella wasn’t too impressed, though: nothing reached out and grabbed her. Then again, she wasn’t evaluating them through the “and look how great they are for their age” filter. She was just evaluating them at face value. So I’m really trying to decide if they’re really good, and weren’t Stella’s cup of tea, or if they’re just impressive for their age. The CD argues for the latter: they’re definitely better live, because one does get sucked in by their enthusiasm and stage presence. (One note here, girls. Wait for the audience to applaud BEFORE you say the obligatory “thank you” after your songs. You’re not thanking them for putting up with your songs, you’re thanking them for their appreciation, which in this case was genuine.)
So then the Eels are up. There’s a strobe light in darkness, and Brian Wilson’s “Our Prayer” is playing to get us all warmed up. A guy built like a brick shithouse wearing a T Shirt with SECURITY in block letters struts out and surveys the audience (who turned out to be “Krazy Al” a member of the band) and then there’s this seemingly neverending guitar noise delivered by our man E, Mark Oliver Everett.
Trying to cram in Blinking Lights and Other Revelations turned out to be unnecessary, as two songs into the set I realized that Eels are one of those rare, great acts that you could go in totally deaf to their work and still enjoy the show. They did so some of Stella’s (and mine) favorites like “Dog Faced Boy” and “Souljacker Pt 1.” (Souljacker was jacked up to about 5 times its recorded speed…) They didn’t do the song that hooked us in that fateful night on WMSE, “That’s Not Really Funny”) but that’s how good they are: we didn’t care. There was enough great stuff going on stage, both musically and visually, that we were rapt. Stella took a little rest during some of the quieter songs. There was one tune that went on for some 20 minutes from the one Eels album we don’t have, and it’s probably the song that the hardcore fans love, so that probably justified it going on that long. I enjoyed it, but then again, I find value in 20 minute drum solos, but Stella got bored. Toward the end, Krazy Al introduced the front man as "A Crazy Motherfucker Called E" and my advice to him was to take the following words and arrange them in a sentence, adding verbs and prepositions where appropriate: kettle, pot, calling, black, look.
Everett, (or should I just be one of the groovy people who refers to him constantly as “E”) dressed in a black mechanic’s jumpsuit, with dark biker’s goggles on his eyes and avaitor’s goggles on his forehead, didn’t say a word all night, as the stage fans blew his hair about, keeping him physically cool, and looking cool, like he was flying some two seater singing his songs to the clouds. He left all the talking to that Krazy Al dude, who deadpanned such pronouncements as “If I weren’t so emotionally unavailable, I could really go for you,” and when not playing an instrument, would either lift weights, or perform some super xiolin kung fu choreography, or squirt whipped cream into eager fans’ mouths at E’s direction, as though it were some kind of Alternative Communion of the Eels’ Faithful.
Boy, I don’t know what blew me away more, the strong originals, or when E came out and belted out “I Put A Spell On You,” Screaming Jay Hawkins style, (his voice was tailor-made for it), sung as the old saying goes, “like he hated the bitch,” followed up by a nod to Sinatra, convincingly shrugging off “That’s Life.” Its been a long time since I went to see a band that kept my attention all night, and they did. I’ll be back and I’m sure Stella will be too.
One huge regret, ( (and it’s the second time in as many weeks that I’m expressing this), I wish I’d brought the camera. This show cried out for my Nikon and a couple of rolls of HP5 pushed to 1600. The announcement at the beginning called for no FLASH photography, but there was plenty of non-flash shooting going on. I’d all but given up being able to shoot shows, what with bands and management getting all bent out of shape by people “stealing an artists’ image.” I suspect that with all the camera phones and such the industry is giving up trying to enforce no camera policies, which is just another of the benefits of increased technology. Its nice to see that its not just aurally that the industry is being forced to re-think and re-tool how it interacts with fans. I think I need to call the Rave and see what the camera policy will be for X and Rollins next Thursday night. I have shots of both of them from the early 80s – it will be nice for this to come full circle after 20+ years. BTW, I’m in the process of totally redesigning this blog, so I will indeed put up all my old 80s clubbing shots for your viewing pleasure, back from the days where all it took was some good strong shoulders and the patience to wait at the end of the stage all night to get a shot of beads of sweat dripping off of Tom Verlaine or Henry Rollins.