EELS House of Blues May 17, 2014
Those that ascended to House of Blues Saturday night expected a rock show. And while they eventually got a very stripped-down version of one, they definitely left having paid for a differently packaged product than they received.
Those that were expecting the prototypical EELS performance, which Houston has seen a few times over the recent years, were treated to something a bit different. The same band was there, including enigmatic front man Mark Oliver Everett, but the configuration was very different.
I was immediately thrown back upon my arrival into the Music Hall. Replacing the usual general admission dance floor were rows of seats about half full of confused patrons. I've been to House of Blues more times than I can count, and have never seen a seated performance there, so it was much to my bewilderment when I walked through the doors.
Fortunately, I'm equipped to adapt to any musical circumstance.
Thankfully, within minutes the lights dimmed, and those still feeling awkward and confused about the configuration of the room shuffled to their seats while Everett, better known as E took the stage for a solo version of "When You Wish Upon A Star."
Trimmed and far more dapper than ever before, E took to the piano on the corner of the stage for a quiet solo opening number. Joined by the rest of the band, who took their places towards the back of the stage, E made it to the microphone in the center with an acoustic guitar.
Instead of the electric instruments most fans are used to, the entire band opted for the softer versions of their normal tools of the trade. While there had been many cues that this show was not going to be your standard EELS performance, those questions quickly became realities as the hushed crowd slowly took it in.
Rather than the fuzzy 90's alt-rock they've made a name playing, we were treated to 90 minutes of acoustic driven music that traded their normal licks for a bare bones approach to the songs people came to hear. While some might've been a bit disappointed at first, not one person left. And soon, not only were people not leaving, but they were all at the edge of their seats quietly mouthing the words to each and every song.
Which I think was the immediate appeal of this set to the true fans in attendance. Being able to sit and take in each dissected version of their favorite songs and actually be able to hear, and probably for the first time live for most, the little nuances that make their music so good.
It was definitely E's show from start to finish, and while he's always surrounded himself by standout players, there was a reason only one spotlight was in use Saturday night. And while he joked in between about how sad his songs are ("This one's not a bummer. No, no wait. It's a total bummer," or, "Aww, this is next level bummer. You might not be ready for this."), they all come in the form of catchy rock tunes, or on this night, catchy jazz, country and blues tunes.
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The stand-up bass and melodica driven "It's A Motherfucker" was the first higher energy tune early in the set, while drummer Knuckles brushed his way through "A Daisy Through Concrete" later on. "Grace Kelly Blues" came in the form of a sad-bastard country ballad, while "Fresh Feeling" almost felt like a Cake song.
Towards the end of the performance, E decided he wanted to give the audience a hug, and while most might've wondered why there was a small staircase up front, they soon found out when he was out amongst the crowd. I even made it into the melee for a chance to embrace one of my favorite singers from the 90's.
After he hugged it out with as many fans as possible, they returned for the first of an eventual two encores. While they kept teasing the audience with more songs, they eventually ended the evening with a pair of covers in Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love" and Harry Nilsson's "Turn On Your Radio."
While most might have been a bit apprehensive at the start, what they received in the end was much more than they could've asked for. It was a top-notch performance from a top-notch band, just not what most expected when they were typing in their CAPTCHA on Ticketmaster.
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Personal Bias: Back in the day when my mom was still buying me CD's, I walked into the local Sam Goody and eventually walked out with EELS debut effort Beautiful Freak based solely on the fact that I thought the album cover was weird and cool. I immediately fell in love with "Novocaine For The Soul" and the rest of the breakout record. But '96 and '97 were about as much time as I spent with the group, but they were always lodged somewhere back deep in my mind. I'm glad I finally got to see them. Hopefully, though, next time will be that rock show I was hoping for, but this was a really great way for me to return to EELS fandom.
The Crowd: Fans and even bigger fans.
Overheard In The Crowd: Several people talking about the odd configuration of House of Blues. Specifically the security guys that were unhappy they had to break down all of the chairs at the end of the night.
Random Notebook Dump: I saw two bands this weekend that I really liked in the mid-nineties, both EELS and Dave Matthews Band, and they each performed acoustic. Pretty random.