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We’re electric: Eels at Northern Lights. Photo: Joe Putrock

Beautiful Freaks
By John Brodeur

Northern Lights, Nov. 1

As I was pulling into the parking lot at Northern Lights on Saturday night, I became confused by the surprising lack of vehicles. Where the hell was everyone? “Maybe they all carpooled,” my friend suggested. Unfortunately, this was not the case. A disturbingly small crowd of around 200 people showed up for the Eels’ first—and probably last, considering the turnout—Capital Region appearance, and that’s just too bad for those of you who missed it. Simply put, the Eels put on one of the best shows this area has seen in a long time.

On record, the enigmatic E (née Mark Oliver Everett) decorates his quirky little songs with horn ensembles, toy pianos and whatever else he has laying around the studio. Live, such adornments were jettisoned in favor of a comparatively spartan lineup of two guitars, bass and drums. Quite honestly, this band had me at “hello.” E’s touring band—guitarist Chet Atkins III, bassist Koool G Murder and drummer Puddin’—took the stage wearing matching red prison work suits and kicked off with the slow, stomping riff from “All in a Day’s Work” (from this year’s Shootenanny! LP). After a few minutes, E emerged from the confines of a large road case at the foot of the stage, harmonica and microphone in hand—easily the most unusual and comical entrance I’ve seen at a rock show thus far. From there, the band didn’t let up or speak a word for a solid 30 minutes, kicking out rollicking versions of “My Beloved Monster” (from their 1996 debut, Beautiful Freak), singles “Saturday Morning” and “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues,” and—who could have seen this coming?—covers of “I’m a Loser” and “Company Store” that probably went way over some of the audience members’ head—but, for those in the know, it was a thrill. The Eels rocked and swung and then rocked some more, often sounding like an overdriven version of an old Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley record.

E was a surprisingly energetic and extremely funny frontman, jumping about the stage and aping every clichéd rock- guitar pose in the book. His interaction with and direction of the other band members was a joy to behold, giving their performance a feeling of rehearsed spontaneity, if that’s possible. Just when it felt like they were getting loose around mid-set, they got their Who on and pounded home versions of “Souljacker Part 1,” “Last Stop: This Town” and the 1996 modern-rock hit “Novocaine for the Soul.” Because they delivered the bulk of the songs with an iron fist, some of their gentler material was rendered nearly unrecognizable, but that’s what made the show so much fun. They were rocking the living daylights out of this little town, and we loved every minute of it.

After the main set, the Eels returned to the stage for not one, not two, but three encores, which was more than ample. But here’s the kicker: After the houselights came up and half the crowd had left the building, the band returned for a fourth time to play a note-perfect version of Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River.” Whiskey Fucking River. And you guys missed it. Your loss.

I don’t really have the room to talk about opening act MC Honky in much detail, but I will say this: The media have speculated that Honky is actually E in disguise, and, after seeing his short opening set and watching the two men interact in person, I’m still uncertain whether or not they’re one and the same.

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