Call it one of those nights. When I decided to see the Eels at the Orpheum Theatre some time ago, I had no idea that Chelsea Wolfe would support with an “acoustic and strings” set that was incorrectly advertised or that the intermission would feature a performance from a sad clown with a glorious voice who would, amongst other things, produce a theatrical performance of Lorde’s “Royals” while a woman in a polka dot dress and a monkey face mask danced next to him holding an inflatable banana.
I certainly didn’t know that the night’s big moment would begin with one of Mark Everett’s best songs being sung by the lead singer of one of the worst bands of all time, returning to the stage in LA after a twenty-year absence. So yeah, it was one of those nights, the kind where reviewing the performances on show actually feels like a moot point, but nevertheless, that’s what I was there for.
First up was opening act Chelsea Wolfe, a local who released a fine album last year in Pain Is Beauty, with what was billed as an acoustic and strings set. Instead, her three piece did indeed feature some lovely violin, whose sound was allowed to soar thanks to the fine acoustics in the grand old Orpheum, but also a third player who used drum pads, samples, and an electric guitar, which kind of defeated the point.
Not that it spoiled the entertainment too much. Wolfe was in fine voice and really revels in her goth chanteuse look with enough showmanship to make her a compelling performer. Her music is actually a case of “more is more,” which means some of the power of the likes of “Feral Love” was lost with the lighter arrangements. At other times, however, such as during “The Warden,” her melodies are so striking that stripping them down to their bare elements actually increases their impact.
Chelsea Wolfe’s set was a stark contrast to the intermission of Puddles’ Pity Party (the sad clown) and then the full band arrangement of the Eels. Everett described it all as “a bit PBS” with the sardonic self-mocking humor that makes his unbelievably sad songs (described by himself during the evening as “major bummers”) more palatable.
His sharp-suited band played a set befitting the surroundings, opening with a cover of “Wish Upon A Star,” sprinkling in older songs (including some terrific highlights from Daisies Of The Galaxy), and also featuring a second cover, a quite marvelous rendition of the Elvis standard “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.”
Yet for all of the show’s qualities, my photographer wife and I were talking about a completely different band on the ride home. That is because this Eels tour has taken on the added significance of heralding the bizarre and unexpected return of Steve Perry, former lead singer of Journey, who has not performed in two decade. He came out to a rapturous response during the Eels’ set to sing “It’s A Motherfucker” in what has to rank as one of the most genuinely weird moments I’ve ever seen at a show.
And then without warning the Eels transformed into a Steve Perry backing band, rolling out “Open Arms” and “Lights.” All of a sudden I was living my worst nightmare: I was trapped at a Journey concert. And I HATE Journey. They’re exactly the kind of soulless, major label, utterly middle-of-the-road vapid nonsense that I avoid like the plague in favor of bands with some semblance of passion and individuality. Bands like the Eels. You know, the band I actually came to see.
That encore was still ongoing when we left the building, an exit which felt like a prison release to me. One of those nights…
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