Silently taking the dimly lit Paramount Theatre stage on Friday night, making her way through a stage full of Eels equipment – xylophones, an upright piano, double bass – extreme metal-influenced chanteuse Chelsea Wolfe looped her breathy soprano into an a cappella “The Way We Used To,” from her 2012 acoustic disc Unknown Rooms.
That album, a stopgap between acclaimed goth/folk/doom twins Apokalypsis and Pain is Beauty, served as a template for her nine-song set, which featured the 30-year-old Northern Californian on an acoustic guitar and accompanied by a violinist and keyboardist. Offered up was the quirky “Flatlands,” Southwestern Gothic “Appalachia,” and a synth-bass-driven cover of Karlos Rene Ayala’s “Boyfriend.”
With hit “Feral Love,” made (in)famous by its use in Game of Thrones, unaccounted for, a full-throated “Moses,” triple-A friendly “The Warden,” and brooding but beautiful “Tracks (Tall Bodies)” stood in. Wolfe didn’t say a word until late in her set, thanking the audience and Eels before closing with a barely folk-rocking “Lone.” The stentorian presentation didn’t do her haunted etherealness any favors.
Neither did ignoring “Feral Love” and her more intense material. While fans showed support, a healthy contingent of the crowd waited out Wolfe’s set in the lobby. A shame, but perhaps a theater full of rabid Eels fans wasn’t the proper avenue for the close attention she deserves.
“The last time we were here, we totally fucked it up,” remarked Eels leader Mark Everett in reference to the band’s previous Austin gig. “Thank you for coming back.”
By contrast to Stubb’s, the Eels seemed made for the Paramount. Bathed in the glow of a lightbulb chandelier and a starry sky backdrop, the gregarious frontman and his four sidemen, decked out in dignified suits, set the scene with the playful overture “Where I’m At,” opener of the band’s recent The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett. Then Everett indulged his inner crooner with a sincere take on “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Needle thus calibrated somewhere between whimsical humor and earnest craft, the quintet surveyed its work via new tunes “Parallels,” “Lockdown Hurricane,” and “Mistakes of My Youth,” plus fan favorites “Fresh Feeling,” “I Like Birds,” and “My Beloved Monster.” The frontman poked fun at his image as the most miserable man in rock, prefacing “It’s a Motherfucker” with, “This one’s a hardcore bummer,” and the hopeful “A Daisy Through Concrete” with, “Good news, I think I’m feeling better!”
In fact, the set summed up the themes fueling E’s artistic expression – hardship and gloom empower, while still giving way to hope and aspiration. “Gimme a hug!” he told the crowd after ending the mostly drumless main set, joining the stage-left audience on the floor. He pulled one young woman named Vanessa onstage, serenading her with a rapturously received “Last Stop: This Town” before leading her and the band off.
That wasn’t enough for the loyal audience, who demanded and got a second encore: the miserably resigned “The Beginning” and covers of Elvis Presley (“Can’t Help Falling in Love”) and Harry Nilsson (“Turn On Your Radio”). Brushing aside the missteps of their last visit, the Eels performed with humor, breadth, and consistency, showcasing a catalog littered with gems and proving that even the most dour sourpuss benefits from honest engagement with an adoring crowd.
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