THERE'S SOMETHING COMPLETELY WRONG ABOUT a Mark Eitzel show being titled Eitzel Entertainment Systems International. Given that Eitzel has written some of the most depressing, painful lyrics of the decade, a title as expansive and promising as that seems downright jaunty. It ain't right.

Considering that "And written in the dust beneath your drink/it says, 'Deadness needs nothing to justify it'/like the ache that's crawling though your chest/ needs nothing to amplify it" is a set of lyrics which shot straight through my heart as it flowed from Eitzel's last album, I'm Caught In a Trap and I Can't Get Out Because I Love You Too Much Baby (Matador), I've shied away from Eitzel in the live setting because, well, I prefer to keep my bouts of misery strictly non-public. I'm selective about who I blubber in front of--unless you plunk a bottle of gin in front of me. But life is grand these days: it's spring, the sun is out, and if Mark Eitzel is coming to town with a jovially named tour, then I'm going to see it, goddammit. Just try to make me cry.

If there could be such a thing as an optimiserist, Mark Eitzel would be it. It's true what they say about jaded depressives being nothing more than exploded optimists. Onstage Eitzel's all wit and self-effacing humor, before he reaches out and pulls your heart up into your throat with songs about becoming an old maid as sour as lemonade, or how you don't really know love until you've seen it fall apart. I've always considered John Wesley Harding to be the consummate musical raconteur, a pied piper who leads you skipping right into the deep end of his murky pool of rain. But now I'm convinced that Eitzel is the true owner of that title.

He's a crafty executioner. He gets you laughing, standing up there with his rakishly perched hats and that tiny, world-weary body--a happy little hobo traveling through the world without a care--and then, BAM! He's singing again, and you're reeling back to a break-up you thought you'd finally put away once and forever. You're remembering a beloved family member who you treated like shit just before they died. Eitzel's voice is ringing clear and swelling wide at just the right points--the parts you feel you could tumble into--and then it's over again, and you're laughing as he trots out some little-heard gem like "Steve I Always Knew."

I once read a profile of Eitzel that said he's the guy you find sober at a bar in the afternoon, telling a drunk how nothing is ever going to be any better, so just keep on drinking. I disagree with that assessment. In every single one of his downtrodden songs you can hear that Eitzel's still the optimistic fool all us jaded depressive types are damned to remain for the rest of our lives. I'd say that evening at the Crocodile was one of the most uplifting, soul-freeing, happy nights of my life as a music lover. They don't come around too often. It's gonna be a great spring.

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