Mark Oliver Everett, or E, from EELS

Blending the conventional and the quirky, EELS gave a solid performance, with gritty vocals and alluring originality, at Observatory North Park.

There’s something quite striking about walking into a venue to see the sole figure on the stage robed in a luminescent, white tuxedo and matching cowboy hat. Among other things, it makes you wonder how much bleach he must have to keep a suit so pristinely white.

The sole figure of Robert Ellis, an Americana singer-songwriter trekked his way to the Observatory in North Park from Houston, Texas. Ellis had a charismatic stage-presence, with a wry sense of humor that manifested witty banter between songs as well as in the lyrics of the songs themselves. Ellis’ commentary on his romantic life in Passive Aggressive is a case in point.

For most of the performance it was Ellis serenading us with voice and keys, playing tracks from his fifth and most recent full-length record, Texas Piano Man. The musical highlight of the set was when Ellis traded the keys for guitar, giving us a sample of the style of his earlier recordings as he played Sing Along. Lightspeed fingerpicking and an added twang to Ellis’ voice let his virtuosity and his bluegrass heritage shine through. Suddenly the proportion of flannel shirts in the crowd made a lot of sense.

If Robert Ellis’ stage image was immediately striking, EELS did not want to be shown up. Lead by founding member and multi-instrumentalist E, EELS opened their set with a cover of the theme from Rocky that helped to draw people away from the bar and their attention back to the stage. In many ways EELS have the charm of a conventional rock act – 70 years of rock-and-roll convention manifest in to catchy bass lines, consistent drum patterns, and a smatterings of virtuosic guitar solos. E provides the alluring originality that gives EELS their kick, with gritty vocals, deceptively dark lyrics, and a strange penchant for integrating tamborines, vibraslaps, and other surprising instruments into the mix.

Blending the conventional and the quirky, EELS gave a solid, energetic performance. They probably didn’t need to have 5 encore songs, but you have to give them credit for having so much energy! You can check out EELS’ music here.

Review by: Sam Gaffney

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