The man’s birth name is Mark Oliver Everett, although he is most commonly known simply as E. The ever-changing group of musicians he sometimes needs (and sometimes doesn’t) to fashion a stylistically kaleidoscopic but consistently creative string of albums, go out on tour and release songs under the name of Eels.
Whatever you want to call him, Everett/E/Eels is an inspirational example of an artist following his muse through the free enterprise system. For the sake of space, let’s just focus on the past five years (although that does exclude the harrowing and wry concept album “Electro-Shock Blues” (1998) about the close-together deaths of E’s mother from lung cancer and sister from suicide, and the punkish skronk and grab-bag pop tinkerings of “Souljacker” (2001)).
Begin with “Blinking Lights and Other Revelations” (2005), an upturned attic trunk of 33 songs tumbling over 90 minutes, with family photographs and other intimate arcana complementing the seemingly random and diverse but nonetheless compelling haul of music.
Continue on to “With Strings: Live at Town Hall” (2006), in which E assembled a drummerless band of melodica, pump organs, celeste, autoharp, lap steel guitar, mandolin, etc. — many of which were scant or nonexistent in his previous music — to cover an assortment of new and old tunes and covers of Bob Dylan (“Girl From the North Country”), the Left Bank (“Pretty Ballerina”) and Johnny Rivers (“The Poor Side of Town”).
Then he got busy. In November 2007, he premiered “Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives,” a film documentary for the BBC (shown here on PBS), in which he retraces the life of his father, Hugh Everett, the now-renowned inventor of a theory about quantum mechanics that was ignored for decades but then lauded just before Hugh died of heart failure. E, who was 19 and alienated from his dad at the time, discovered the body.
Eleven months later, in October 2008, E published his widely praised memoir, “Things the Grandchildren Should Know.” Two months after that, the Jim Carrey film “Yes Man” was released using E’s new and old music for most of its soundtrack. And six months after that, in June 2009, E dove back into Eels records with the first album of what became a trilogy of music that will most likely make up the bulk of his set at First Avenue on Sunday.
The title of that first disc, “Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire,” signals the unbridled hunger, lust and vulnerability (the last borne of a desire for love) that would be embarrassing in its extremes if the raw emotions weren’t so (seemingly) guileless and cloaked in continually creative musical settings.
Things get even bleaker on the second chapter, “End Times,” released in January of this year, which obsesses on aging and dying and being left alone, a depression triggered by the breakup of a relationship. Sounds awful, eh? Yet anyone who knows of E’s confessional history and relentless need to keep forging ahead on new projects can see and feel that this is less of a wallow than a full experience to be eventually shed for some new skin.
And sure enough, in August, the final album in the trilogy, “Tomorrow Morning,” arrived, featuring more electronica than is typical for E (assuming anything is typical for E) and such uplifting ditties as “Spectacular Girl” and the six-minute opus “This Is Where It Gets Good.”
Now E and his Eels have hit the road, with First Avenue as their Sunday destination. Expect plenty of songs from the trilogy, probably leaning on the latest, and more refined styles and unvarnished moods than you’re likely to find in 90 percent of the acts touring today.
Here is a sweet “That Look You Give That Guy” from “Hombre,” performed live at Pukkelpop 2010.
Here is the snaky-blues side of Eels on “Jungle Telegraph” from Melbourne earlier this year.
Eels at First Avenue, Sunday, October 3, at 8 p.m., tickets $25. Jesca Hoop opens.