Weeks before the Eels played on the 24th of June, I knew it was going to be
a very unique show. For one, no opening act was announced. For two, the show
would be a seated affair, although every ticket had 'general admission'
etched in black. Images of chair slaughter spun through me as I thought
about how the Phoenix concert theatre would pull off a sold out show with a
couple hundred seats on the floor of the club. Surely someone would be
trampled. Surely all the chairs would be stolen. Surely this would be a
This concert proved just how neurotic I can be sometimes. Not only did every
fan shuffle nicely through the aisles of red, plastic fold-ups, but there
wasn't even a rush for the front. I arrived after at least a hundred people,
and while the first aisle had been filled, the second was predominantly
vacant. People, I suppose, realized that if everyone was sitting then there
really would be no bad seat in the house and just sat wherever. Throughout
the show, some people began to stand in the aisles, but only during the
encore did a crowd of skirts and slacks penetrate the area between the
aisles and stage and finally go crazy.
In lieu of an opening band, we were treated to a short children's film about
friendship and connection. What gave it charm was it's adorable little
stop-motion characters and the fact that it was subtitled from it's original
Russian (or was it Polish? I am so uneducated.) Judging from the doughy-eyed
audience surrounding me, all of them happier to have seen such innocent,
adorable behavior on screen, the unique idea was a hit. Even a shameless
trailer, plugging Eels' upcoming tour DVD didn't phase the audience out of
it's childlike state of euphoria.
The curtain dropped (only halfway, at first; another cute moment in a long
set tonight) and sitting also were six band mates; four violinists, one
percussionist and one bass. E arrived during a swell of string arrangements,
holding a cane and smoking a thick cigar. Beginning with 'Dust of Ages',
Eels blew through four songs in less than ten minutes. It became clear then
that the set would mostly comprise of work from 'Blinking Lights and Other
Revelations', the new album, which didn't appear to bother anyone. The new
album is stacked with a range of qualities (good to bad, mostly) but E was
able to stick to the good stuff, such as the solo-acoustic 'Railroad Man'.
When he did finally address the crowd (besides his 'hello, I'm tired because
the border cops took all night cavity searching me' bit) and asked for a
request, he calmly dismissed everything; "Don't like that song. Hate that
song. Don't remember that song. That's not my song. Okay, come on, can
somebody just yell out the song I'm going to play. Nope, not that one
either. Yeah, there it is. SoulJacker, by request!"
The most interesting aspect of the night was not how beautifully the string
section took to Eels' material or even how his cynical songs about the loss
of every kind of love come across as even more ethereal live, but how the
arrangement handled his previous work. With no electric guitar on stage, and
no real set of drums (a trash can and a suitcase were Chet's instruments of
choice) the strings had to pick up all the lost slack, and in doing so
created not only prettier versions of 'Souljacker' and 'Dirty Mouth' but a
ten minute long haunting version of 'Novocaine' that had only the lyrics in
common with the original.
The most fun moment of the show came seconds into the first encore. As Eels
broke into a tougher version of 'Hey Man, (Now You're Really Living)',
everyone who had been standing on the sides of the seating ran forward and
began dancing at the front of the stage. It was a moment that showed that
having to sit for an entire show does nothing to diminish the excitement we
can have for these performances. We'll listen and enjoy the hell out of
seventy minutes of heartbreaking ballads and medleys, but as soon as we're
given something worth dancing for, no set of chairs will hold us back.
Writer: Kyle David Paul