Once upon a time, it was a motherfucker.
The crowd sat in utter silence, except when prompted to clap or laugh, depending on what the magic man did. And, for all intents and purposes, he was magical. E., the man, the myth, the legend. Mark Oliver Everett ("E" to his friends and fans), son of a famous physicist, was like the pied piper of hip (not hipster) Phoenix Wednesday night at Crescent Ballroom.
It felt like a storybook kind of event. In fact, it would not have surprised me if at some point during the evening, a Disney princess had floated into the venue. Walking into the Crescent, seeing all the seats set up for the docile disciples, a plan of inaction was set in place to keep the stage volume low and the "masses" inactive yet weirdly participatory. It was orchestrated brilliance and an utterly satisfactory first show of the Eels 2014 tour.
Opening act Miner, a Los Angeles-based family act (husband and wife, plus husband's brother) was nice. They were entertaining to a certain extent, and their enthusiasm for themselves was not particularly unpleasant, although it was not anything you couldn't find playing in the background of the most self-absorbed coffee shops in America. If anything, they only made the audience more hungry for Eels.
After a short intermission, Eels took the stage and from that point forward, one man was in complete control of the night.
If there is any criticism, it's that the deceptive nature of E's songwriting made almost every song seem familiar, even if only for the first few bars. There were, of course, some serious standout cuts, but even they weren't head and shoulders above the newer material, and in some cases, Eels gave its devoted Phoenix audience a chance to hear songs that had never been played live before.
Lyrically, E. is without peer. One brilliant phrase after another flowed from his lips. With a stellar backing band and a seriously delightful wit, it is easy to see how this show not only sold out, but had a standing room only contingent that held down the bar areas of the crowded, but easy going Crescent. While the energy in the room was low due to the relaxed nature of the 97 percent seated crowd, the quality of this show was anything but sedate.
It was fantastic and also truly heartwarming to see E. come off the stage and give out hugs between the first and second encore.The crowd seemed more than happy to receive the E. love and it was truly a classy touch for him to climb down from the stage and give a little back. His between song banter served greatly in showing a human side to one of the greatest living song writers on the planet today.
All in all, if you missed this show, even though it had a fairly hefty price tag, you missed a lot. For musicians and music aficionados, it was a clinic in how to not only write a simple yet utterly engaging song, but also how to expertly play it as the musicians in Eels are all exemplary players. For the casual fan, it was pure entertainment a show that will be easily remembered as one of the year's best. As an observer, it was easy to see how the mere presence of a room full of chairs helped rein in the drunken buffoons who inevitably ruin shows like this for true (or brand new) fans.
Once upon a time there was a band called Eels. There were (and are) great, whether they are doing their own material or covering a classic staple, and if you yell loud enough that you "love Mark Everett," he just might say that he's single and "you're next."
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