Short Cuts: A music blog

Short Cuts blog

The Eels. And schizophrenia.

Apr 27

Written by:
4/27/2008 10:29 PM  RssIcon

 The Eels Setlist - 27th April 2008 Sydney

Are the Eels a power pop band? Or a string-laden chamber pop band? Or are they an acoustic duo? Or a three piece punk band? The reason I ask is that I’ve seen this band play 4 times in the past 5 years and, on every occasion, they’ve been a completely different live proposition. They are, without doubt, the most schizophrenic of live bands. And that’s one of the many reasons why I love them to pieces. It seems as if Mark Oliver Everett (or Mr E or just plain E to everyone bar his bank manager) hears many voices in his head and listens to the loudest when he’s planning his world tours. It must be a kind of madness. Which, with is family history, kinda makes sense…

Last night’s show in the Enmore theatre in Sydney began with a screening of a BBC funded documentary that traced E’s efforts to find out more about his father, Hugh Everett III, a quantum mechanics physicist who is credited with coming up with the theory of Parallel Universes. This theory has been embraced in popular culture through shows like Doctor Who and cult movies like Donnie Darko. E’s investigation took him on a tour of all things Quantum – from Princeton where his dad developed the theory, to Copenhagen where the film detailed the meeting that his father had with eminent scientist, Nils Bohr. The documentary, whilst highly amusing in parts, touched on some desperately sad events – the suicide of E’s sister, the depression of his parents, the sudden death of his dad just as his theory was becoming more accepted. Many of these events have been detailed in the Eel’s albums over the years but the onscreen revelations added an extra layer of feeling to the band’s intimate performances later in the evening.

Maybe “band” is too strong a word. The Eels, on this world tour, consists of E himself and “the Chet”, a multi-instrumentalist who accompanied E on piano, harpsichord, the saw, guitar and, most thrillingly, the drums. It’s a Motherfucker, performed solo at the piano, was as amusingly poignant as ever but the evening really kicked off when the duo warped into some kind of White Stripes version of the Eels and thrashed their way through Flyswatter, Bus Stop Boxer, Novocaine for the Soul and Led Zep’s Good Time Bad Times. Without this manic period, the gig may have slipped into anonymity.

In any case, the Eels clearly buck the trend. How many bands tread the boards each tour, trotting out a few numbers for the new record and a smattering of old faves to a ripple of applause (and yawns). I salute the Eels, and in particular Mr E, for their (his?) contrariness and the fact that they wish to challenge me as a fan on each and every tour. I can’t think of many other acts that compare?

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