Throughout their existence, Eels’ live show has been many things, but predictable is not one of them. In years past, they have toured as an impromptu orchestra, accompanied by a string quartet, and as a traditional rock band. This time around, enigmatic frontman E decided Eels were a full-on blues-rock revival band. Not a glockenspiel or synthesizer in sight. E took the stage sporting a mighty beard, sunglasses, and bandana, looking like a cross between Elwood Blues and a cult leader. Joining E to form the most recent incarnation of Eels were the Chet, Koool G Murder, Knuckles, and newcomer P-Boo. Though the supporting cast stayed in the background for much of the night, they took centre stage for a few amusing moments. The first involved E pitting the Chet against P-Boo in a battle to win the audience’s love. After the Chet’s decisive victory, drummer Knuckles got to sing his theme song, with Koool G Murder supplying some tasty grooves.
With their first tour in four years and three albums worth of material released in the interim, it wasn’t difficult to guess what would be played. As expected, much of the setlist was taken from Hombre Lobo, End Times, and this August’s Tomorrow Morning. The backdrop flickered between the orange, blue, and purple colour themes of the albums, mirroring the general moods. For the most part, the new songs came off better in person than on record. Hombre Lobo’s characteristic howling was as raw as ever on ‘Prizefighter’, ‘Fresh Blood’ and ‘Tremendous Dynamite’. With the Chet and P-Boo on backing vocals, ‘That Look You Give That Guy’ was a surprise highlight of the night. Material from End Times provided some slower moments. Tomorrow Morning was a largely DIY effort with many electronic touches, and as such, the songs were slightly re-imagined. ‘Spectacular Girl’ in particular benefited from the re-arrangement. Despite being informed that summer had recently passed, covers of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Summer in the City’ and George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ were thrown in. The latter song was accompanied by E throwing what I’m told were ice cream sandwiches into the crowd.
I have no beef with the new material, but the complete lack of Electro-Shock Blues and Blinking Lights and Other Revelations was disappointing. The night’s deeper cuts were taken from some odd sources, mostly Daisies of the Galaxy and Souljacker. I’m not sure anyone was clamouring for ‘Jungle Telegraph’, but opening with the title track from Daisies and throwing in a raucous version of ‘Bus Stop Boxer’ was much appreciated. E shouting “You little punks think you own this town” in the middle of a spotlight was rather striking. In keeping with the bluesy vibe, Eels staples ‘I Like Birds’, ‘My Beloved Monster’ and ‘Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues’ (aka “that song from Road Trip“) were amped up and reworked. After two one-song encores, both from Tomorrow Morning (which was somewhat baffling), Eels left the building for good.