Eels returned to Chicago to play a 90-minute set that was heavy on rock 'n' roll and light on soft vulnerabilities.
The first thing one senses about Jessica Hoop is her ability to be comfortable and candid with an audience. She's seen her share of the world, moving from California to Manchester. Like Eels frontman Mark Everett, she has also seen her share of familial pain. Doubtless, this has led to many songs being written that may have otherwise never existed. Hoop was present to warm up the crowd with songs from her 2009 album Hunting My Dress, and to share some of her life experiences with a gathering of fans. Speaking of her Angel Mom, she told about a woman who led a virtuous life in the Mormon faith and then became ill before the age of 60 with stomach cancer. That might sound alarmingly heavy if it weren't in front of Eels fans who are used to that kind of emotional clarity. Of course, a huge difference is that Hoop was playing with an acoustic guitar and has a much more melodic voice than Eels singer Mark Oliver Everett.
Fans clearly wanted more when Hoop had to conclude her 40 minute set with her vivid lyrics. As in the title track of her most recent record, we could all sense when water was moving underground and could imagine falling into a dream with her whilst listening to her stereo play hypnotizing songs. Eels began the set with mainly Mark Everett on stage for the first three songs (The Chet filled in on pedal steel nicely for "End Times"), which provided a nice transition from Hoop's solo acoustics to the latter edgy rock of Eels' main set.
The band has gone through many phases and odd shticks that keep people guessing about what kind of man Everett really is and what he might do next. This performance brought some interesting shenanigans including fake setlists and a cooler with wrapped ice cream cones that Everett threw out to the crowd during his raucous cover of George Gershwin's "Summertime". More true to its original was his cover of Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" earlier on in the set.
Everett was joined by a full band for this tour to support their recently released 2010 album Tomorrow Morning and all band members sported beards and sunglasses just as he has decided to do. It's a shtick that comes off as bizarre and unnerving to say the least and one can imagine this might be exactly what Everett's intention is.
Throughout the 90 minute long set, Eels played some older songs but Everett tended to transform his gentler tracks, highlighting his tender Tom Waits-esque rasp into boisterous and energetic affairs. This was the case with "I Like Birds" especially, whereas songs that already had this element seemed less false, such as the highlight of the set, "Souljacker." One can definitely speak to the idea that Everett is able to reinvent himself and keep us all on our toes, even if he has been around making music for nearly 15 years and has put out nine full length albums. Yet, it's the vulnerability that reminds us that he's utterly human and this was somewhat missing in action for this set.