Last Night...Eels @ the Fox Theater

Last Night...Eels @ the Fox Theater

Eels Wednesday, April 9, 2008 Fox Theater Better Than: hockey

Being an innovative and legendary creative force in the world can place undue stresses on a person. Expected to perform at a certain level, to consistently engage an audience, to rise to greater heights with each utterance, the artist can feel overwhelmed, and ultimately succumb to the pressure. Either that, or he must face the reality that he will, at some point, disappoint.

Such must have been the case for Hugh Everett III, pioneer of quantum physics. Dead of a heart attack at age 51, Everett never really had the chance to see his pioneering theories regarding parallel universes regarded with anything more than cautious skepticism.

Everett’s son, Mark, however, has the good fortune of being recognized for his genius in his own lifetime. Under his pseudonym E, and with his solipsistic musical project, Eels, the younger Everett has garnered a fervent cult following. Last night, members of that cult were more than happy to crowd into the Fox Theater, sit on folding chairs, and watch Eels indulge in arcane theories and practices – but this time about pop music instead of quantum mechanics.

The show opened with a nearly hour-long documentary about Everett the physicist and Everett the songwriter, a film that debuted on BBC4 last November. Asking a live music audience to sit still for a documentary – no matter how insightful and engaging – is a lot, and the crowd at the Fox seemed to fall into three camps during the presentation of the film: reverent, restless or bored. Personally, I really look forward to watching this documentary when I can give it the time and attention it deserves, but I came to see Eels rock its unique, quirky brand of indie pop and couldn’t wait for the film to be over.

When E finally took the stage, he was joined by longtime collaborator, “the Chet.” The pair played a satisfyingly long set of tunes from all eras of the Eels career. The Chet’s multi-instrumental talents were impressive, especially when he picked up the saw for a couple of songs, and even took on lead vocal duties. Most of the Eels best-known and best-loved tracks – plus a rocking Led Zeppelin cover – made an appearance, much to the delight of the ardent fans who had shown up early to grab an uncomfortable folding chair and watched E perform as though he were a prophet. Even when the duo broke from the usual concert protocol – such as when the Chet read passages from Everett’s new book, Things the Grandchildren Should Know – the dedicated members of the audience sat quiet and focused.

Unfortunately, the energy of the show rarely rose above that of a nursing home on game night. Everett and the Chet both switched instruments with remarkable aplomb and played their parts crisply, earnestly and accurately, but in such a subdued manner that they failed to reach all but the most committed members of the audience. It didn’t help that neither musician made a great effort to reach out and connect with the spectators. To be fair, last night was also Everett’s 45th birthday, and one can imagine that he might have chosen something other than playing a show to mark the occasion, especially considering that his father died when he was just six years older than the singer-songwriter is now.

The concert was billed as “an evening with the Eels,” and the Fox made every effort to let people know that the show would be largely seated, but I still expected Everett to bring energy and enthusiasm to the set. Instead, he seemed to be going through the motions and lacking in concern for his audience’s experience. –- Eryc Eyl

Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I haven’t been to a show at the Fox in a long time and, though the folding chairs made it difficult to find a spot with decent sightlines, I was thoroughly impressed with the sound. Random Detail: For those who weren’t excited by Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, the documentary about Hugh Everett, the Fox was kind enough to keep the hockey game on a big screen in the lobby. By the Way: Three discs released this year compile 74 of the best and oddest tracks Everett and his various collaborators have put together over their 10-year career. If you aren’t up on all things Eels, pick up Meet the Eels and Useless Trinkets for an excellent crash course.

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