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Image Entertainment presents
Eels With Strings: Live at Town Hall (2005)

"We're not used to working with people that need things written down."
- Mark Oliver Everett

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: February 20, 2006

Stars: Mark Oliver Everett
Other Stars: The Chet, Big Al, Paloma, Julie, Heather, Ana
Director: Niels Alpert

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:38m:53s
Release Date: February 21, 2006
UPC: 014381304428
Genre: music

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Maybe not exactly a household name, but Eels are a band, curiously hip in some circles for 10+ years; in that time they've released an engagingly unpredictable series of songs that were always somehow even less predictable than experiencing one of their ever-changing live shows, where presentation often meant reinvention. But if you scrub away the surface layer, the band—for all practical purposes—is just one man. That's Mark Oliver Everett, better known as E, and who is probably one of the more unassuming "rock stars" in music, a curmudgeonly cynical poet who more closely resembles a quirky mechanical engineer than a musician.

With Eels With Strings: Live at Town Hall, Everett once again reinvents his creation, rejiggering 28 songs from the band's vast catalog (as well as the occasional cover, such Bob Dylan's Girl From the North Country), performing them remarkably stripped down with an unusual seven-piece outfit consisting primarily of a string quartet, or musicians backing him with instruments like a trash can, saw or even a suitcase. The set on this disc was recorded at Town Hall in New York City in June of 2005, and this DVD release is more than just the music, and in between songs we follow Everett behind the scenes, on the road, and all of the hassles of his attempt to "hang up that part of my life" that was Eels pre-2005, and move onto some new evolutionary track.

The very nature of this project (it's billed as a concert film) feels compelled to make this about more than just the music, and to be quite honest the music would have been enough. The appeal of Everett's offstage adventures, while often strangely insightful and revelatory in an expected son of a physicist way, would have been just as effective as a standalone doc, and on repeat viewings just serve to bust up the flow of the songs. As a one-time experience, it is interesting and funny to see Everett not onstage, and then there's the new take of a performance of something like Novocaine for the Soul, and everything seems new and stupidly right with the world. But without the ability to play just the concert portion, the appeal of repeat viewing is just more of a chore.

I can lazily bitch about the lack of an option to bypass the offstage stuff, but perhaps from an artistic side this disc represents one long vision. Just another Darwinian advancement in some tightly coiled mass of leftfield creativity. It's apparent that Everett's not a guy seemingly content to play the same old, same old, and his lyric "the dust of ages settles on your days, but I'm not f***ing around anymore" (appropriately from the song Dust of Ages) seems indicative of his nature. Like some less well known alter ego of David Bowie or Joe Jackson, Everett (and/or Eels) moves with the same kind of musical DNA-altering experimentation that probably loses or confuses more casual fans than it eventually keeps, but those faithful that stick around are often pleasantly rewarded. And those emotional rewards might have been greater with the ability of rewatching this sans the offstage chatter.

Set List:

Going to Your Funeral Part 2
Dust of Ages
In the Yard, Behind the Church
Bride of Theme From Blinking Lights
A Magic World
Son of a Bitch
Blinking Lights (For Me)
Dirty Girl
My Beloved Monster
The Only Thing I Care About
Bus Stop Boxer
Pretty Ballerina
I Like Birds
Girl From the North Country
Railroad Man
Trouble with Dreams
If You See Natalie
I'm Going to Stop Pretending I Didn't Break Your Heart
Dead of Winter
Novocaine for the Soul
Losing Streak
The Stars Shine in the Sky Tonight
Souljacker Part 2
Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)
Things the Grandchildren Should Know
Dog Faced Boy
Mr. E's Beautiful Shoes

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The transfer is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, one that alternates between arty, slightly grainy black and white for the in-between material, and color for the concert portion. The concert footage is lit minimally and rather simply, so image clarity is not always particularly detailed, with the backing musicians largely relegated to the edge of shadow. No major print flaws or damage was evident.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in rather plain jane 2.0 stereo—hardly the stuff of legendary DVD concert recordings—but the mix is still abundantly clear and workable given the stripped down nature of the set, with the principle string nuances of the backing quartet plainly audible, the odd rhythms of the suitcase/trash can drum set properly thwoppy, and Everett's quiet moan rising above it all.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 42 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 28 cues and remote access
4 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. music videos
Extras Review: Extras include four deleted scenes, the longest of which runs just under 10 minutes and the shortest 54 seconds. Cribs (02m:11s) offers a look inside the tour bus, Bobby Jr. (:58s) has Everett lamenting about missing his pooch, Boring (:54s) is simply assorted shots of him uttering the phrase "boring", à la Homer Simpson, and Another Day at the Office (09m:53s) follows him on a number of repetitive radio interviews.

There are also two music videos, for the songs Hey Man (Now You're Really Living) (03m:35s) and Trouble With Dreams (04m:32s).

The disc is cut into 42 chapters.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The only thing would have boosted this to "highly recommended" status would have been the option to play the concert portion only, minus the life-on-the-road bits that crop up between every few tunes. All that behind-the-scenes material is good, but it would have been nice to have a bypass for repeat viewings.

True to form as one of alt-rock's cleverest and wryly forlorn songwriters, Mark Oliver Everett reinvents the nerdy angst of the Eels catalog with a string quartet, causing all the subtle jabs of his smart guy lyrics to have entirely new meanings.



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