Tuesday, August 16, 2011

before i sputter out

Just to get this out of the way, my concert calendar for August now appears depleted, but maybe next month will be a little livelier. In the meantime, I hit the Great American Music Hall for the eels.

eels, Great American Music Hall, 08-11-11Eels, Great American Music Hall, August 11, 2011: I've fallen into the formerly anathema habit of not buying concert tickets ahead of time and letting the chips fall where they may. This often means missing the gig entirely, or I turn to Craigslist for an extra. For the eels gig, several sellers contacted me, but I also got an imbalanced exchange with another would-be ticket holder. I'll excerpt his emails below.

I'm currently trying to recruit a girl to come along; but she doesn't know who EELS are and is recovering from surgery. So I'd say chances of you getting it are even higher than I am (hahhahahah - don't worry about the only one who thinks I'm funny). I live in [town name] so I'd have to meet you in the Tenderloin. The only thing I need you to do is look out for police officers and crackheads with weapons while I score my dope. (Unarmed crackheads are easy to handle). Just kidding of course......

Man....chick said a week and a half ago she'd love to go. Now I get a text on the DAY OF THE SHOW that she isn't coming 'but if you want to come to [town name] for a few drinks I'd be happy to have you.' I CAN GET ALCOHOL ON JESUS' BIRTHDAY WOMAN! What the fuck is that? Granted E tours way too much and I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the Bay Area before New Years......It is not an everyday occurrence. She probably drinks fruity smirnoff shit anyways. Damn I'm pissed. Kinda nice how my sarcasm stays in tact when I'm really mad though :) Up at [university name] used to pay 400 for a single football seat when the face value was something like 112. I don't want to rip you off though; just want you to see a band you enjoy and have enough money to survive the week (I'm frugal......Danish. Not Jewish. But frugal). Can you do $50 in unmarked Canadian bills?

Note: This does not include a surprise Gchat session littered with jokes (?) about chemical dependency and mandatory sentencing -- watch your privacy controls, kids! I ended up buying a ticket elsewhere in a completely professional transaction, and when I informed the fellow above, he replied that he'd "found a total cutie on Match.com who loves Eels." I'm pretty sure I dodged a major bullet on this one.

I can't tell you whether this guy was serious, but if it was performance art, it was fitting for an eels show, where a dose of theatrics has always been the norm. Tonight, early hints of these dramatic touches included an impressive bank of lights, three small trophies topping various amps and monitors, and a reinforced barrier at the front of the stage. Also, "Eelvis Presley" warmed up the crowd with a short selection of famous tracks from the King.

eels, Great American Music Hall, 08-11-11

It soon became apparent why the barrier was in place; it allowed room for three wooden blocks in the gap between the audience and the band. E, in turn, worked this short expanse as something like a catwalk, ambling out to the edge throughout the night. But let's face it -- this was hardly a teenybopper crowd. We greeted him enthusiastically, but no one launched themselves onstage.

It's a little odd to think that the eels have been around for 15 years now, with a full discography to prove it. I've managed to catch them on several tours in this time, and one thing I've grown to expect (in addition to the aforementioned flourishes) is the band's ongoing transformations of the of their back catalog.

Back in 2008, the two-man gang banged out stripped-down treatments, but with six supporting players, the latest version of the group went all out. The only description I feel comfortable reporting is "I Like Birds" went all cock rock. Also, during the new-style "Novocaine for the Soul," I kept wondering what kind of miracle occurred that such an unorthodox piece of pop could be considered a hit. Finally, I never would've guessed that the former standard bearers of the '90s Silverlake sound would burrow so heavily into roots rock, but that kind of discovery is exactly why some of us stick around. They rounded out the setlist with a cover of "Hot Fun in the Summertime," though only after confessing to thinking they were in San Felipe, Mexico, for New Year's Eve.

eels, Great American Music Hall, 08-11-11

E held court with Letterman-esque proclamations ("That was fun!") and minutely detailed band intros. I recognized a few of the faces, such as The Chet on guitar and Knuckles on drums. We were told Tiny Al on bass came from the same family that gave us Crazy Al and Big Al, which I suspected all along. The three other players looked less familiar, but they fit in nicely with their shades and sport coats. You can't say the eels don't set the scene.

The Submarines, Great American Music Hall, 08-11-11

The Submarines opened the show, and after a couple of hints, I remembered they were featured in an Apple commercial a little while ago. Speaking of LA fads, they hit the current sweet spot of boy/girls vocals in combination with a folksy, poppy sound. They charmed me, which is a rare feat these days.

See also:
» i like birds ... and eels
» where butterflies and blackbirds perch

Thursday, August 11, 2011

the sun was hot and the sun was bright

I've never been to Hawaii, though I live in the state that probably has the most direct line to the island paradise. Well, guess what finally got me there? If you said a Jeff Tweedy and/or Wilco show, then you have been paying attention (and, understandably, silently judging). Give yourself a gold star!

Jeff Tweedy, Hawaii Theatre, August 4, 2011: I have no problem admitting that my main impressions of Hawaii were formed by the Brady Bunch episodes where they grappled with Vincent Price and a cursed tiki idol. (Bonus: Don Ho shows up!) In an eerie coincidence, our group sustained a handful of injuries, including a surfing accident, just like Greg Brady. However, also like America's favorite family, a few members of my tour group had dinner with -- in a manner of speaking -- the would-be abductor. It's a clear case of life imitating art, right?

Jeff Tweedy at the Hawaii Theatre

In my mind, this trip was the companion piece to Wilco's Alaska sojourn from a few years ago for obvious reasons: late statehood, distance from the lower 48, and general exotics. You could draw a parallel in at least one other regard, as well; the crowd was incredibly enthusiastic. In fact, the fellow sitting three seats down from me appeared to be jumping out of his skin and felt compelled to relay his giddiness to me. As soon as Jeff took the stage, the guy pumped up his cred with a request for "New Madrid" (which was played, complete with one tiny lyrical slip-up).

This zeal showed in other ways, most audibly in the relentless clapping from all over the room. Unfortunately, the crowd's efforts mostly crashed and burned, either proving unsustainable or simply veering off-tempo, and not even Jeff's direct requests could stop them. Eventually, Jeff's words sunk in, though one lone holdout to our left couldn't hold himself back.

At this point, I probably sound like a Grumpy Gus, but that's not my intention at all. I actually enjoyed the outbursts, awkwardness, and banter. The struggle between Jeff and the audience never became distracting, and clearly, the crowd just wanted to show their appreciation for such a rare gig. We even enjoyed a lot of accidental comedy, including a perfectly timed clang of a smartphone just before Jeff sang "I'm assuming you got my message on your machine" from "Muzzle of Bees." In fact, the singer giggled through several points of the show, and I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've seen Jeff kiss a picture of himself (on the cover of the local free weekly) onstage.

If you've seen enough Wilco shows, you may know that they often play a rudimentary setlist when they first come to a new town. We expected the same of Jeff and his Hawaiian debut, but give him credit -- he broke out a number of songs that the average fan wouldn't recognize, such as "Not for the Season" and "So Much Wine." The respectful silence that accompanied these tracks spoke volumes, especially compared to the whoops and cries that welcomed the likes of "Via Chicago" and "Hummingbird." And in a directed nod to the state itself, Jeff prefaced "Someday Some Morning Sometime" with the statement that it always reminded him of Hawaii.

I'm not sure if the crowd at the Hawaii Theatre realized the unique formation that played for us when Pat Sansone (who opened the show with a solo set composed of Autumn Defense songs and covers) joined Jeff for the encore. Pat donned an acoustic guitar and supplied harmonies to a handful of tracks, including a couple of titles from the forthcoming Wilco album. I can't tell you how many times I'll be hearing these songs when the band is back on the road to promote the new record, but I'm pretty sure I won't get to take in the same treatment again.

I have to cite one more wholly singular memory of this show: the several leis draped across the monitor for the artists. Jeff remarked on their fragrance, and he wasn't kidding -- I caught a whiff of them toward the evening, and they were still going strong. Jeff at first resisted the accessories, but in the end, he finally relented, sharing them with Pat.

I feel compelled to report that we squeezed in plenty of other activities, including a trip to the North Shore, a fantastic gourmet dinner, and lots of shaved ice. Next time, we're doing Diamond Head!

See also:
» choo choo charlie had a plenty good band