Recording information: Royal Albert Hall, London, England (07/30/2014).
In 2014, Mark Oliver Everett received "the freedom of the City of London" (in essence, a key to the city) the same week as his band Eels performed and recorded this set at the Royal Albert Hall. There's a bit of irony here: four years earlier, he was arrested as a suspected terrorist while strolling through Hyde Park.
The raucous Eels of Wonderful, Glorious is not the band that showed up for this concert (which is also captured so handsomely on video for inclusion in the package). This version of the band is in suits, not track wear. Everett is mostly at the piano. The Eels introduce the show with brief, lilting versions of "Where I'm At," Disney's "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio, "The Morning," and "Parallels" before Everett greets the audience with a wry, humorous monologue. It references the esteemed venue as a "dump" and promises the crowd an evening of "sweet, soft, bummer rock." What follows is a musical tour through the band's catalog with each studio album but Shootenanny! represented. The second half of the gig draws more heavily from then-current The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett. Sure, these are the "hits," but this guided tour through the dark, often heartbreakingly honest complexities of this songwriter is played with mostly sparse elegance by the Eels, including a stripped-back (though hardly all-acoustic) arrangement of "Grace Kelly Blues." Sometimes the monologues are longer than the songs, but none are excessive, and hearing them more than once doesn't detract from the enjoyment. The show's second half picks up the intensity a bit with the roots rocker "I Like Bird," but it's followed by the poignant, reflexive pop romanticism (complete with a doo wop backing chorus) of "My Beloved Monster." Its "official" closer is a loping "Where I'm Going," which looks at turning 50 unflinchingly. There are three encores, however, including "I Like the Way This Is Going" and "Blinking Lights (For Me)" that leave their studio counterparts wanting. In a "Phantom Encore" Everett plays the Hall's mighty pipe organ that he was previously forbidden to -- by the institution -- not once, but twice. This three-disc package is an essential document for fans; it reveals almost all of Everett's dimensions as a songwriter, and how tight and fluid the Eels are. Everett's humor balances the sometimes harrowing narratives in his tunes. All told, most of these interpretations are essential. ~ Thom Jurek