Accompanying herself on guitar, Chelsea Wolfe’s haunting vocals were backed by a keyboardist, electronic tracks, and a stand-out violinist. The music, lighting and mood were dark and mysterious, with more than a hint of teen-angst. Wolfe, who wore a flowing cape with her hair mostly covering her face, seemed a bit otherworldly, especially with her dramatic, reverberating voice. Her vocals have a strong, loud clarity that seem to erupt from within her, even as she remains very still and mysterious. I admit she gave me chills with each crescendo. Some devoted fans were moved to yell “thank you Chelsea and Andrea,” between songs.
While many of the songs seemed a bit underdeveloped, they had an enchanting intensity. The song “Boyfriend” for example, seemed to end just as it was building to a powerful, loud apex — which was kind of disappointing. The ethereal “The Warden” from Pain is Beauty was by far my favorite. In certain songs, some of the dissonant tracks that were playing felt a bit mismatched and grating, clashing with Wolfe’s gorgeous voice. This kind of music would easily fit in during high-drama moments in movies or TV — during those scenes when you have the feeling you’re watching some terrible fate of confluence and are powerless to stop it. In that sense you’re drawn in, but then left a bit hollow and sad when it’s over.
A show with the Eels is a session in storytelling. Frontman Mark Oliver Everett’s gravelly voice and affecting lyrics hold you enrapt as he takes you willingly down his melancholy, narrative path. The Moore Theatre’s intimate and oh-so grown-up setting on June 7 was the perfect match for Everett and his mature, polished band, looking handsome in their suits & ties. The Eels have grown from a lo-fi, alternative band into a group with a more developed sound, using a good combination of genres — dipping a toe into alt-folk here, a hand into singer-songwriter laments there. Add to that a cascading, lightbulb-set background — and the orange glow and classy spotlights paired with honest, quality musicianship made or quite a treat. The audience of mostly aging ’90s teens (this girl included) and scattered youngsters were still observers, devoted fans taking in Everett’s every word.
The instrumentation was well-rounded — the standard guitar and piano complete with stand-up bass, trumpet, dobro, tympani drum and organ bells played in various combinations. Definitely grown-up stuff, and you felt it — this music is real. Everett took turns on guitar and piano, and in some songs three guitars made for rich, warm melodies. His band has changed often over the years, and the trumpet/guitar player was clearly the youngest and newest addition. All of these guys were polished, exacting players without being flashy, and played with complete unity and sync, reminiscent of old friends.
It seemed purposefully ironic that he opened with Disney’s “When You Wish Upon A Star,” and then went straight into the pretty, but regret-filled “Parallels” from the most recent 2014 release, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett. The 22-song set was a thoughtful mix of Cautionary Tales and older numbers, hitting almost every previous album at least once. The Eels are known for long sets and multiple encores, which they delivered unassumingly this evening. Songs played from the newer Cautionary Tales comprised of “Where I’m From,” “Lonesome Lockdown Hurricane,” and “Mistakes Of My Youth,” the bulk of which are concentrated repentance, full of self-criticism.
The lowest point of the show came after “Gentleman’s Choice,” which was a complete mood-killer. This was only one song removed from the fan favorite, the hopeful “Fresh Feeling” off 2001’s Souljacker, and the playful “I Like Birds,” from that same era’s Daises of the Galaxy. Several of the lighter songs were from Daisies, “A Daisy Through Concrete” and the sweet, wistful “Grace Kelly Blues.” Everett and the band seemed loose and comfortable here, a brief respite from the heaviness. Later in the set one more song from Cautionary Tales was thrown in, the gloomily hopeful “Where I’m Going.” Some of my own favorites, the beautiful “Blinking Lights” from 2005’s Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, and “Flower” from Beautiful Freak rounded out the set during the final encores, as well as a nice rendition of Elvis’s “Only Fools Rush In.” A few hardcore fans and myself waited hopefully for one last encore (they’ve been known to do this) after the house lights came up to no avail, the bouncer ordered us to disperse.
Longtime fans may recognize that Everett’s voice has aged somewhat, just slightly lower and more gravelly than the days of Eels first release, Beautiful Freak (1996). One can’t resist the Tom Waits comparison, feeling the inexplicable; now it only wields more power and grit. His notes remain clear and on pitch, his words intensely personal and well-placed. Fulfilling tunes surround the listener while Everett unleashes his profound accounts on the difficulties of living, enthralling the audience with his tales.
Yet, Everett himself is a contrast to these severe personal moments each song holds. From his first “Good to see you,” to his jokes about the Eels as “soft rock” he was warm and goofy throughout the set. He poked fun continually about Seattle being the home of grunge and how the Eels are anything but — “our own type of grunge, but you won’t notice it.” He kept the mood light between songs. While introducing the classic “It’s a Motherfucker” he lamented, “This one’s next level bummer” to a chorus of giggles in return. Before the first encore, he exclaimed, “Let’s Hug!” and literally came down into the crowd and started giving hugs, with devoted fans rushing up front to receive. It was downright adorable. His nature would have you believe he is probably one of the most well-adjusted people you’d care to meet, and somehow he works everything else out in his songs and leaves the bad stuff there. The audience experiences his demons delivered in his calming, sweet melodies, and leaves recognizing that really, it’s going to be all right.