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After Eels’ triumphant performance at L.A.’s Orpheum Theater last night wrapped up with a five-song encore, including Harry Nilsson‘s “Turn on Your Radio,” the band was joined by Journey’s legendary former lead vocalist Steve Perry, who has joined them on several dates of their current tour after decades of avoiding the stage.
“The interesting thing about this guy is he walked away from it all 20 years ago,” observed Eels leader Mark Oliver “E” Everett, addressing the crowd from the stage. “And then in Minneapolis, he came back to sing with us. Then he walked away again, and six days later, in Washington, D.C., he came back again. And then he walked away again. Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time anywhere in 12 days — and the first time in L.A. in 20 years — please welcome Steve Perry!”
“It’s been so goddamn long,” said Perry to the audience. “I gotta thank the Eels for inviting me out here — the best band that any singer could want. I met E because of a friend of mine, Patty [Jenkins, director of Monster]. She burnt me a CD of Daisies of the Galaxy, and I told Patty, ‘Someday I want to sing that song.’ ” Then Perry and Eels performed the band’s tune “It’s a Motherf—er.”
“Steve motherf—in’ Perry! He is a motherf—er,” exulted E, who then joined Perry in a superb rendition of Sam Cooke‘s “Only 16,” which morphed into a bit of Journey’s “Open Arms.”
“Steve, what about trying one you haven’t done in a long time?” asked E. “You did that one 11 days ago.”
“How about this one?” said Perry. “I wrote this one in L.A., then I joined this band called Journey, moved to San Francisco, and we finished it up there, and changed ‘L.A.’ to ‘the Bay.’ ” Dancing like a man at least 20 years younger than his 65 years, Perry rocked out on “Lights (When the Lights Go Down in the City),” nimbly leaping over the microphone cords perilously snaked around the stage, turning his back on the audience to groove with Eels drummer Knuckles (Derek Brown), then facing the audience to hit the high trills flawlessly yet with a new rasp in his voice sounding just a bit like E himself.
“The ‘cit-ee’ is L.A.!” shouted E.
“Here’s another,” said Perry. “I was 18, working as an assistant engineer in a music studio … I’m out of breath! I guess I haven’t done this enough lately to get in shape. Anyway, I was 18, and this girl pulls up in a Corvette with a guy, and they were mackin’ it up — tongue and shit! She denied it. So I wrote a song about it, and it went like this.” Perry then launched into “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’,” putting his hand to his ear to make the audience sing along (rather well) with the “na na na-na na na” chorus. When he hit the high notes, he sounded like Minnie Riperton on testosterone.
At a party after the show, Knuckles said, “We’ve been bugging him to perform for years. He came to our rehearsals. We’d play a Journey song, and he’d say, ‘Oh, guys, I’m not gonna do that.’ He’s a sweet guy we’re happy to play with, not just because he’s Steve Perry, but also ’cause he’s a buddy.”
“He does ‘It’s a Motherf—er’ completely different,” said E. “When I sing it without him, I feel like I’m just, like, basically talking.”
“Listen, I’ve done the 20-year hermit thing, and it’s overrated,” said Perry. “Why now? It’s a long story, but it has to do with a lot of changes in my life, including losing my girlfriend a year ago and her wish to hear me sing again.” Writer Joel Stein, who plays croquet with Perry and Eels, said, “I know she had cancer.”
Jon Hamm, a friend of Eels, said, “You’ve got to remember, Steve’s in his 60s — it’s a pretty impressive performance. It was really nice to hear that voice again.”
“When he sang ‘Only 16,’ the hairs stood up on my head,” said Eels guitarist and trumpet player P-Boo (Mike Sawitzke). “He sounds better with a rasp, more mature and grown-up.”
But all the members of Eels’ croquet circle urge the public to stop believing in Perry as a croquet player. “He was bad,” said Stein. “His croquet nickname was ‘Hacksaw’ or ‘Chainsaw.’ “
As an Eels singer, however, Perry shows distinct promise. “I passed the audition!” he said.
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