What defines a great rock show? For me, it’s not so much the music as it is the enthusiasm and passion of the band on stage. I’ve seen some shows that have been brilliant, on the musical level, but completely boring otherwise. The Pixies immediately spring to mind. I caught them during their reunion tour in the mid-2000s in Portland. The entire band looked weary and bored on stage while their sweat-soaked front man, Black Francis, became repeatedly overwhelmed by his own girth and had to sit down next to the drum stand a few times. But musically? They sounded just as great as they did on their old live album, Death to the Pixies.
So, yeah, give me the Pete Townshend-style windmills, the bunny hops, the waving of the hands in the air while everybody collectively acts like they just don’t care and all that stuff. Oh, and banter. I love me some stage banter.
I went into Amsterdam’s always wonderful, always fantastic Paradiso last night not knowing what to expect from Eels, the mid-’90s one-hit wonder turned fiery cult band. On the band’s albums, lead singer Mark Oliver Everett (AKA “E”) sounds like a Louisiana street preacher with rabies. He deviates between world-weary ballads and bloodthirsty cries for blood at the drop of a dusty fedora. While listening to their albums, I’d always pictured a very-hairy dude screaming his lungs out on top of a plywood stage in the sort of smoky Cajun honky-tonk that no longer exists, if it ever did.
But instead of that, the guy who came bounding out onto the Paradiso’s stage last night looked and acted more like a coked-up Zach Galifianakis. He and the band were all dressed in Addidas tracksuits and seemed genuinely overjoyed to be there. They stopped to chat and hug one another when they weren’t pounding the living hell out of their instruments and when Everett wasn’t howling like a demon or acting like the monster reincarnation of Jake Blues.
I’ll also note here that two of the guys in the band looked like George Lucas. The lead guitarist resembled Lucas circa Raiders of the Lost Ark. Meanwhile, the bassist looked more like Lucas right after Willow bombed at the box office.
But before Eels took the stage, a guy in an old-fashioned clown outfit made his way through the crowd. Nicole Atkins was listed as the opener but instead we wound up with Puddles the Clown. He stepped up onto the stage and began singing random karaoke songs while a woman in a Minnie Mouse dress and a rather frightening monkey mask wandered around with bananas, stopping occasionally to fling one into the crowd. This being April Fools, I assumed their set was a gag. For what it’s worth, Puddles had a hell of a singing voice and did a great job with Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”…before he abruptly switched gears and started singing Metallica songs.
After Puddles finished his performance, Nicole Atkins took over. Her set was lovely and she told a story about shaking up with her family after Hurricane Sandy ravaged her home last year. She apparently got really drunk with her grandfather on cheap vodka. I saw Atkins years ago at a tiny club in Eugene, Oregon. She came out after the show and posed for a photo with a friend’s bottle of Miller Hi-Life. She seems like a nice gal.
Eels have, apparently, earned themselves a reputation for secret encores that take place anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes after their sets are over. They played two encores last night despite “very severe warnings from the Dutch equivalent of a fire marshal,” according to E. The supposedly second and final one featured “Fresh Blood,” a grisly but awesome song off Hombre Lobo, an album I can’t recommend highly enough. During the song, lights drenched the stage in blood-red illumination while seizure-inducing strobes blasted the room.
It was neat.
So off goes the band, the stage lights come up and the crowd starts heading towards the door. My girlfriend and I, having heard the tales of Eels’ secret encores, stuck around, along with a hundred or so others. Sure enough, ten minutes later, the band barged their way past the stage manager, grabbed their instruments and started playing “Dog Faced Boy.” Puddles and his monkey assistant also came out and added to the chaos of the proceedings.
Now I don’t know if the Paradiso’s staff was in on all of this but the stage manager seemed pretty damn pissed off about an abrupt third encore as the crowd in the foyer rushed back into the hall. She ran around behind the risers and started yelling at the band as they launched into yet another song.
Perhaps taking the hint, they quickly wound things up and ran off stage again. The minute the band was gone, roadies rushed onto the stage to cover up their equipment while a very large and very bearded man, possibly a bouncer, stood in the wings, ready to physically block them from returning for a fourth encore.
Eels have two more shows to go in Amsterdam this week. They’ll be playing tonight and again on Wednesday. If you ever get a chance to see these guys play live, whatever you do, don’t turn it down. You shant regret it.