EELS at Lee’s Palace in Toronto, August 2, 2011

On Tuesday night, housemates and I saw my favourite band, eels, play in Toronto. I’m thinking about pursuing criticism, which means I need practice, so I present to you my first concert review.I’ve been to a number of concerts in my time, although I’m certainly not a seasoned vet. However, this was probably the best concert I’ve been to. The opening act was quite good, a two-man indie pop group, The Submarines. Their sound was, for lack of a better term, very sweet, and they just seemed really happy to be playing. Their tone was the perfect precursor to the rest of the show, since that happy buzz never really left the room.

For this tour, eels consisted of 7 members: 4 guitarists (one of whom also played the trumpet), a drummer, and a two-man brass section, who each played different instruments, depending on the song. They opened the show with “Flyswatter,” an old fan favourite from Daisies of the Galaxy. I mention this because tone-wise, I think this whole concert was most like that album. I didn’t stop moving the entire time, because nearly every song was incredibly joyful and fun, mainly amped up versions of many of their gentler songs, like “Grace Kelly Blues” and “I Like the Way This is Going.” They upped the ante a bit at the end of the concert, bringing out their rockier stuff, like “Souljacker Part 1” and “Fresh Blood,” as well as a much more frantic and heavy rendition of “I Like Birds,” which is always a crowd pleaser.

The tone of the music was reflected by the guys on stage. Frontman E is notoriously moody, but seemed in great spirits, punctuating songs with comments like “Delightful! Let’s do another one!” or “That was refreshing!” He’s just an incredible showman, and really knows how to interact with his audience. The band members were all very interactive as well, giving each other high fives, and dancing with their guitars. When they were clearly having so much fun on stage, it was impossible not to do the same in the audience.

Some of the high points of the concert, for me: “That’s Not Really Funny,” their second song of the evening, has never been an especial favourite of mine, but it was incredible live. It combines heavily distorted guitars with explosive horns, and it just worked perfectly. I wasn’t expecting “Grace Kelly Blues” or “Packing Blankets” to show up, so they were a pleasant surprise, especially as they were sped up enough so I could dance to them – although I never stopped dancing, even during the slower ones, like “It’s a Motherf*cker” and “That’s Not Her Way.” Any song using the horns was really fun actually, and was different from the 5 piece garage/rock band version of eels that I saw last year. “Fresh Blood” is one of my absolute favourite songs, and it was a repeat from their 2010 tour, but it was no less effective this time. If you don’t know it, you can have a listen to it here, but make sure that your bass is on. The song is basically an orgasm. The yearning in the howling guitars (and E’s literal howling) is palpable, and the song doesn’t lose any of that tension live. The stage was drenched in red light, with strobing white light punctuating the chorus. It was immensely sexy.

Which brings me to my next point! The band’s lead guitarist for the past few years is a man known as The Chet. He’s a very talented musician, and got some very “cockrock” bits to play in this concert. He also really moves his body when he plays, and all of these factors combine to make one very attractive guitarist. He also was the closest musician to me, so I may have cheered extra loud every time he did anything exciting. For most of the concert, there was only one dude between me and the stage, but said dude left before the second encore, so I got right up to the stage. Well, I guess Chet noticed that I’d been screaming at him the entire time, because as he was leaving the stage, he looked right down at me, and shot me a double thumbs up. (If you’re interested, you can witness this event at about 8:12 in this video).

I can basically die happy

As sexy as The Chet is, the whole band is a cornucopia of talent. E always takes the time to introduce everyone, with all of their silly nicknames, so everyone got their moment to shine, especially drummer Knuckles, who got to sing a whole song about himself. Introducing the band members was the longest E spent talking to the audience, and he made it funny and entertaining, like the rest of the show.

Well, I guess that pretty much wraps up my review here. If you don’t know the band well, I’d highly recommend checking them out. They’re incredibly prolific, with 9 studio albums released since the ’90s, so chances are you’ll like something that they’ve done.

I think I would be remiss as well, if I didn’t mention one non-musical highlight of the night: we decided to get burritos before the concert at this little burrito place that’s practically in the venue. Well, a few other people were early and milling around, including one guy who looked just like Kurt Vonnegut, but with very red hair. Ginger Vonnegut sat on the edge of the venue, watching the concert very seriously, often with his chin in his hand. Malini and I couldn’t help but laugh. I wish I’d taken a picture of him, he was great.

I also wish I’d brought a proper camera, but I did have my iPhone, so here are a few photos:

E and the Chet
I didn’t even notice until afterward that Chet is looking right at me here.
Horn section and the venue. I tried to get some pictures of the other side of the stage, but they all came out painfully blurry. Oh well, that’s what I get.
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