Eels’ use acoustic renditions to revamp old favorites in live album

Ally Melling

E and his Eels at a live performance. The group’s latest album, With Strings Live at Town Hall, is well worth the price of admission. COURTESY OF VAGRANT RECORDS

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

It’s been 10 years since the alternative rock band Eels had its first number one single, “Novocaine for the Soul,” from the Beautiful Freak album.

Five full-length records later, Eels returns with a string-accompanied live album reminiscent of old MTV’s “Unplugged” or Metallica’s symphonic S&M.

The newly released With Strings Live at Town Hall features a fantastic blend of new work with acoustic revamps of Eels favorites stretching to last year’s dual-disc, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations.

Eels have always sported a consistent sound of rock ‘n’ roll ambiguity, separating the band from other alternative bands over time.

Its albums tend to have moods equal to those of the group’s creator, the hoarse-voiced singer/mastermind known as E. The band has become well known for its gritty moodiness and its lighthearted whimsy.

With results varying from acoustic to blues, hardcore, garage and just straight-up rock, E and his Eels have always retained an honest quality and fresh tone in a music-world of droning clones.

Thus, With Strings Live at Town Hall is a 22-song emotional testament that mixes different eras enjoyable for both fans and the unfamiliar.

Up-beat hits such as “Dirty Girl” and “My Beloved Monster” (remember this from Shrek?) are given new, drumless life with the aid of violins and cellos.

Upbeat favorites like the playful “I Like Birds” and the band’s last single, “Trouble With Dreams,” add variation to the album’s tone. Here, The Chet provides the rhythm on a makeshift trashcan drum.

The album’s new song contribution, “Pretty Ballerina,” also adds to the energetic, toe-tapping action.

The Daisies of the Galaxy highlight, “Flyswatter,” is taken into awesome, improvisational extremes when The Chet jams on a saw with the backup string quartet. This effortlessly segues into “Novocaine for the Soul” before the listeners know what hit them.

Saws are not the only new instruments replacing the Eels’ usual electric guitars. For With Strings Live at Town Hall, the band also employs a celeste, pump organ, upright bass and a suitcase among others.

For the more visually oriented audiences, Eels also offers a new With Strings Live at Town Hall DVD of this performance.


With Strings Live at Town Hall

Released on Vagrant Record

Stater rating (out of five): ?????

This companion DVD features six more songs than the album, including favorites from the Souljacker and Electro-Shock Blues albums. It also features videos, multiple documentaries and “behind-the-scenes with E” segments following the frontman as he ventures both through the city and the making of his most ambitious project.

Though the Eels released a live album of its 2003 “Tour of Duty” session early last year, With Strings Live at Town Hall is more than a simple live recording adding to a landmark band’s repertoire. It is a fresh new addition to the Eels legacy that distinguishes itself both for the band and the listener.

Contact ALL correspondent Ally Melling at [email protected].