The Eels are down in the groove, down on their luck, down for the count. At the Roxy on Tuesday, the band led by the mysterious E made music that was smart and brooding, sad and happy, mixing a longtime flair for irresistible hooks with a lowdown rock-and-blues rumbling. E began the set with several moments of raw, gutbucket blues, blowing hard into a harmonica from the back of the room. Clearly, the man is no longer limited to pure pop, less Brian Wilson than John Lennon.
The Eels' new album, "Shootenanny," aims to make sense of a sad world through the healing euphoria of pop and rock. The same could be said of their choice in outside material, beginning with a moving take on the Beatles' "I'm a Loser," as E strummed to the lyrics of youthful self-examination and the troubled lament: "I'm not what I appear to be." E also sang Merle Travis' "Sixteen Tons," the vocals dark and distorted, his lips pressed against the microphone.
The Roxy shows (they're back tonight) are a warmup for the Eels' upcoming tour. "We're like a doe getting up on its wobbly feet," E joked from the stage. But there was nothing uncertain about the performance, which was delivered with strength and casual grace.