Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett is a graceful wonder on stage; he’s transformed both his musical style and his stage presence over the years, but Saturday night’s show at Chicago’s Vic Theatre showed a certain return to a form, leaving fans nostalgic for the band’s 2005 album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. Everett’s new solo LP The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett is also reminiscent of this nearly-decade-old release and demonstrates a sort of gentle vulnerability fans have come to love in the course of the band’s 15 studio albums.
Seeing Eels live is a bit of an emotional roller coaster but Everett was able to strike a delicate balance between the sadness of “A Line in the Dirt” and a rocking rendition of “I Like Birds.” He’s an accomplished guitarist and pianist who even occasionally treated his audience to glockenspiel. In addition, multi-instrumentalist The Chet filled in the most crucial moments of the songs live, using upright bass, drums, occasional trumpet and melodica, and pedal steel. Fans were also treated to free hugs by Everett, who ran into the audience toward the end of Eels’ main set. It was lovely to hear such great new and old tracks throughout the 75-minute show, as well as great covers such as “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley and “Turn on Your Radio” by Harry Nilsson.
Chelsea Wolfe, who opened the show, has created some of the most intensely original music for modern times. Her 45-minute set featured tracks primarily from 2013′s Pain is Beauty. It was stripped down in comparison to previous headlining sets, though not technically acoustic, with keyboard, guitar and violin giving the songs a richness similar to her recorded tracks. Wolfe is spooky and moody on stage, channeling a sort of trance-inducing intensity that may have been more difficult for some audience members to digest. At the same time, the link is in the genuineness and creativity that she and Everett share.