A brief and baffling history of opening acts for Eels (playing a sold-out World Cafe Live tomorrow)
Eels fans are somewhat conditioned to expect the unexpected. The long-running project of songwriter Mark Oliver Everett will release raging rock & roll albums one minute, lush and autobiographical double LPs the next. They toured as a four-piece rock band in the “Alternative Rock” 90s, then performed with mini orchestras and strings. And, ever the absurdist, Everett has a penchant for opening acts that are untraditional, outlandish and just downright bizarre. Here’s a rundown of openers he’s brought through town.
MC Honky; Theater of Living Arts; August 2, 2003
This hulking, balding, elderly funk DJ in a trenchcoat and porkpie hat spent an hour-long set on the 2003 “Tour of Duty” (in support of Eels Shootenanny! LP) puffing a pipe and spinning dope records with disco-danceable beats. The widely accepted theory is that it was simply the man called E in a fat-suit; MC Honky’s lone album, I Am the Messiah, was produced by Everett, and little evidence exists to suggest that Honky is an actual person otherwise.
A screening of the BBC documentary Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives; First Unitarian Church Sanctuary; March 28, 2008
This show had a lot of hype buzzing from the R5 Productions folks about it being “the biggest production we have ever done in the sanctuary,” which had a lot of fans (myself included) imagining something on par with the recently-released Eels With Strings live album – or at the very least, like the chamber-orchestral Oh, What A Beautiful Morning. But no, the elaborateness was the installation of a giant screen covering the entirety of the massive sanctuary alter so that a BBC documentary called Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives could be screened in lieu of a musical opener. The film traced Everett’s quest to learn more about his quantum physicist father, the late Hugh Everett III, who chased hypotheses about parallel universes during his career at Princeton. Fascinating stuff, but heady, super-complex and a little discomfiting for a crowd that wasn’t expecting to sit through what felt like an episode of Nova before Eels took the stage.
Ventriloquist John Pizzi; World Cafe Live; September 22, 2010
XPN’s Eric Schuman attended this show a couple years back, and heard whisperings beforehand that World Cafe Live talent buyer Laura Wilson was specifically asked by the band to find a local ventriloquist to open the show. She discovered John Pizzi and Andy, a comic duo from New Jersey, and Schuman recalls that he “was funnier thank you’d expect a ventriloquist to be” and received a warmer reception from the crowd than singer-songwriter Jessica Hoop.
Puddles Pity Party; World Cafe Live; March 2, 2013
Which brings us to tomorrow’s sold-out show at World Cafe Live, with opening act Puddles Pity Party. Not much information is available on the venue’s website, but from the artist’s page, it appears Puddles is a demented clown. Of course, all clowns are kind of demented, but this one makes a point of touting the David Lynch comparisons it’s received. Your guess is as good as mine.
Puddles Pity Party opens for Eels at World Cafe Llve, 3025 Walnut Street, tomorrow at 8 p.m. The all-ages show is sold out.