Mark Oliver Everett isn’t a guy notorious for a sunny, carefree
temperament. Better know as the singularly monikered E, the
mastermind behind the nothing-if-not dependable alt-song machine
Eels, Everett is a songwriter best known for his bittersweet
gloom-pop and jet black humor.

Mira Levitan
Courtesy of DreamWorks Records

The tear-jerking classics Beautiful Freak and
Electro-shock Blues instantly hit your gut with their
mile-high production values and the wrist-slitting candor of lines
like “My name’s Elizabeth / My life is shit and piss.”

So I wouldn’t have pegged E to be the kinda guy to put on a
deeply life affirming, straight up rawkin’ live show. Yet I stood
jaw-agape corrected Sunday night at the Blind Pig when Mr. E’s
beautiful new lineup of Eels came to Ann Arbor.

While the last two Eels’ albums, the raw thumping
Souljacker and this year’s Shootenanny, suggested a
gradual shift in perspective, the latest incarnation of the band is
built for speed. Plowing through most of the new album and a
cross-section of the less grim end of E’s back catalogue, Eels
revealed an affinity for amped-up early blues/rock, even tossing in
the twang of country-western swing for good measure.

Cathartically electric and oddly encouraging, Eels crammed a
whole lot of steamy music into Ann Arbor’s favorite little dive
club, much to the delight of the packed crowd.

The night got off to an Andy Kaufman-esque start with opener MC
Honky taking the stage to perform his “self-help” paste-and-cut
sonic collages from his debut I Am The Messiah. Honky has
been accused as being a fictional front for E to put out a
tongue-in-cheek experimental side-project. E, of course, denies
this.

Shockingly when the lights dimmed out walked the spitting portly
image of the pipe smoking, bowtied caricature from the album’s
sleeve. Obviously not the wiry E, “Honky” spent his set puffing his
pipe while close-replica mixes of his album tracks blared out from
the speakers. By the end of the infectious “Sonnet 3: Like a Duck”
the initally bewildered crowd was genuinely digging the put-on.

E, carried to the stage on his manager’s shoulders, stuck mainly
with guitar this night, ripping though “Grace Kelly Blues,” “Last
Stop: This Town” and “Novocaine for the Soul” with unheard energy.
Likewise “I Like Birds” was reworked as deathpunk a la Andrew WK’s
“Party Till You Puke.”

Occasionally, E drifted to his organ for blues stomps and more
tender moments like “Agony,” one of few bleak moments of the
night.

The guys were egged on in to no fewer than three encores. E
seemed touched and thrilled by the crowd’s response to the rockin’,
joking about being ripped off by Badly Drawn Boy and being on a
first name basis with our sleepy campus town, calling the crowd
collectively by “Ann.”

Eels also paid tribute to their lost friend, neighbor and
labelmate Elliott Smith with the touchingly warm “Sofia Writing In
the Sky” from the soundtrack to the recent film “Levity.”

“Maybe rock can’t save everybody,” E soapboxed in his trademark
rasp during the climatic “Love of the Loveless.” “Well at least, it
saved at a least one life: mine.”

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