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Saturday, 24 May 2014 14:33

Concert review and set list: Eels get emotional at the Sheldon Concert Hall, Friday, May 23

Eels at the Sheldon Concert Hall Eels at the Sheldon Concert Hall Colin Suchland
Written by Robin Wheeler

Five years ago this week Eels released "Hombre Loco" a distortion-heavy treatise on desire where band mastermind Mark Oliver Everett -- he goes by E. -- frantically declared, "All I can do is feel feel feel" on "Lilac Breeze."

The noise and frenzy are gone. Last month the band released its 11th studio album, "The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett," a quiet post-breakup introspection. But Everett was still "feel feel feeling" during the five-piece band's set at the Sheldon.

He made sure his audience felt everything as deeply as he did, starting with the album's opening cut, the instrumental "Where I'm From," a slow dirge made somber by the Chet's pedal steel and Koool Murder G's bowed upright bass, softened by Everett's upper-key piano, Knuckles' marimba twinkle, and given funeral parade balance by P-Boo's trumpet. With all those emotions stirred, E. gave an extra wallop by singing Disney classic "When You Wish Upon a Star," his trademark gravely voice gone innocent and smooth while the band moved through the crowd of instruments on the stage, seamless in moving from quiet to so orchestrally big they would have fit in at Powell down the block.

Before "Mansions of Los Feliz" E. addressed the sadness and regret expressed on the new album, reassured the audience, "I stand before you a transformed man! I'm looking for love. Who's got the love?" Tongue-in-cheek, he let the audience in on the joke, performing intensely personal songs from a bad time that's since passed. He kept the levity through the show without distracting from the heaviness of the songs.

"I hope you're in the mood for a sweet, sweet bummer," he said before "3 Speed." Before the next song, "End Times," he warned, "I was wrong. This one's a total bummer." And he was right. The first half of the set focused on sad longing, regret and want that's permeated Eels' albums from the beginning.

New track "Lockdown Hurricane" might be the quietest storm song ever. Slow and quiet, E's piano and The Chet's pedal steel give a calm base for the swell of drums, bowed bass and the harkening call of the trumpet. It's a gentle hurricane, internal and swelling, melodic and clear.

"Definitely feeling better," E. claimed after the storm, leading into a Brubeck-style cool jazz arrangement of "A Daisy Through the Concrete" that erupted into rock territory at the chorus. With 10 songs of desire and heartbreak, this felt like the band might progress into its rock catalog, especially with E. requesting a drum roll to open "Grace Kelly Blues." This wasn't a haphazard play-the-hits set list, but rather an orchestrated tale told through each song's placement in relation. E. announcing the moods at the beginning of each song was a nice little non-patronizing cheat sheet for those of us who might have missed the art of the pacing otherwise.

With maracas and trumpet, "Fresh Feeling" was unrecognizable at first, eliciting gasps as the song's new arrangement sank in, moving into a three-guitar surf rock intro for "I Like Birds" and a sweet pop take on "My Beloved Monster" that ended with four-part a capella harmonies and E. banging out the final beats on tubular bells.

The mood swooped lower with a trio of new songs: "Gentlemen's Choice," "Mistakes of My Youth" and "Where I'm Going." E.'s voice gradually moved into the rough smokiness of his recordings at the show progressed, by now a soft and sweet rawness. Paired with the lovelorn lyrics, the Tom Waits comparison is impossible to ignore.

The Eels get unfairly labeled as gloomy and sad. E. can make all the bummer jokes he likes, but there's always brightness and hope. On "Mistakes of My Youth" backed by three guitars with a chiming melody, he admits that he can't keep defeating himself, repeating mistakes and that "it's not too late to turn around." The mania of desire and agony of loss is gone, even though the darkness tried to creep back in. Late in the night, after all the mood swings, he calmly, sanely accepted the hardest truth: that everything really will be okay, regardless of the mistakes made and hurts inflicted.

"Where I'm Going" should have been the set-ender, and it felt like the band was ready to retire backstage for the encore routine. Instead E. ran into the audience, doing a victory lap through the Sheldon's aisles, stopping to hug as many of the people on their feet as they cheered him.

I was on the aisle and was given a close, long hug that allowed enough time for me to introduce myself as the person who interviewed him on Monday. With eye contact, a grin, and an extra squeeze of my wrist he thanked me before moving on. This lap wasn't just stage theatrics; E. radiated joy, and spread it around with the intimacy of touch and words.

Before each of the next three songs, he asked, "Another one? Let's do another one!" before taking a backstage break for a more traditional encore. Again he pulled on the sentimental heartstrings. After the bummer of "The Beginning," he offered a counterpoint: a delicate cover of Elvis' "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You," twinkling like blinking lights with the bells and piano, xylophone and trumpet.

Don't worry about E. He's feeling just fine. And so are his fans, who left teary eyed, grinning and spent. Feel feel feeling is good.

Set list:

Where I'm From
When You Wish Upon a Star
The Morning Parallels
Mansions of Los Feliz
3 Speed
End Times
Where I'm From
It's a Motherfucker
Lockdown Hurricane
A Daisy Through Concrete
Grace Kelly Blues
Fresh Feeling
I Like Birds
My Beloved Monster
Gentlemen's Choice
Mistakes of My Youth
Where I'm Going

I Like the Way This Is Going
Blinking Lights (For Me)
Last Stop: This Town

The Beginning
I Can't Help Falling in Love With You
Night Light

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