The EELS’ Beautiful Reconstruction REVIEW+PHOTOS: The Eels @ Brooklyn Steel 6/9/18
NEW YORK,NY- “There are times you have to tear something apart to find something beautiful inside.”
That’s the last sentence of EELS’ unconventional bio. It’s characteristic of Mark O. Everett, or E — both disarmingly forthright (“fuck all this jibber jabber and see if you like this new album,” he says) and meditative, even vulnerable.
“The deconstruction has begun — time for me to fall apart,” begins the opening track to EELS’ 12th studio album, The Deconstruction. The guitars and strings shade into the cinematic — like the theme song to a spy thriller in which the villain is one’s self — “I tell you nothing changes ’til you start to break it down and break apart.”
Mid-’90s hit “Novocaine for the Soul” had critics describing E’s music as melancholy indie rock, but that categorization misses the evolution of the band and the measured optimism of The Deconstruction. This latest album showcases EELS’ ability to shape-shift from sweaty rock like the percussive, groove-filled “You Are the Shining Light,” to the sunny power pop of “Today Is the Day,” to the noir “Bone Dry,” its ominous quality augmented by a discordant “shoo be do be do be” and twisted doo-wop bassline (check out the performance on Late Show With Stephen Colbert — does Frankenstein play tambourine?). Then there’s the tender “Sweet Scorched Earth,” perhaps the most overtly political song of the album — “there’s poison in the water and the sky,” E sings over a quiet, relatively sparse arrangement.
It’s been a long-awaited return for EELS fans who packed both levels of Brooklyn Steel on Saturday night, soaking in the songs as well as E’s banter. The frontman thanked the audience of, as he called it, the “City of Apples,” and nodded to the interlude between the current album and 2014’s The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, saying “I’m old as fuck, but I rock,” and, “if this is dad rock, let’s do it.”
E played the part of both lovable eccentric and secretly-insecure rock star, pausing mid-set to ask everyone to put their phones away, before adding, “Just kidding — if I don’t see a thousand YouTubes tomorrow, I won’t feel vindicated.” Later on, he delved into some astrology: “I’m an Aries, and sometimes I’m too lazy to peel the sticker off an apple, so I eat around the sticker. I did that earlier today and felt I needed to get it off my chest.”
For this tour, E is flanked by “The Chet” (Jeff Lyster), who multitasks on guitar, bongos, and vibraslap; Al Hunter (there’s an intriguing backstory about his Mormon missionary days in Japan); and drummer Joe Mengis (“he’s new, and he kicks ass,” said E).
The well-rounded set included a few covers (The Who’s “Out in the Street” and Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and “When You Were Mine”), and even after one encore, the crowd was not sated. When the sweaty masses spilled out onto the streets of East Williamsburg following the second encore, I overheard one guy remark to his friend: “It’s a rock show, but I’d forgotten how E can make me tear up at the drop of a hat.”
It’s true — for all the swagger and electric guitar slinging, it’s the achingly revelatory, acoustic songs will knock the breath out of you. Chalk it up to E’s decades of music-making, dissecting a troubled past through songwriting (and an autobiography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know), and now, as a father, looking ahead to kinder days. In all of this — the wide-ranging sonics and themes — one unifying feature is that touch of graininess in E’s voice. It makes me think of the slightly frayed hemline of a favorite shirt — it may get a little ragged, but it will see you through another year. After all, as EELS reminds us, we sometimes have to crumble before we can restart:
“I’ll break apart. I’ll break apart. Right now, it’s going to start. I’ll break apart. The reconstruction will begin.”