Eels, Brixton Academy, London

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The Independent Culture

Under the white utility-style jumpsuit, the dark blue bandana, the shades and the mammoth beard is E, the enigmatic frontman (and first letter) of Californian indie-rockers Eels.

Jogging onto the stage to "When You Wish upon a Star", eccentricity becomes him. Far from the picture-perfect world of Disney theme tunes, though, E and his music are no strangers to heartache – and E has had more than his fair share of life's tragedies. His sister's suicide and mother's death fuelled 1998's Electro-Shock Blues, he lost friends in 9/11, and now he is on tour showcasing End Times, Eels' eighth album, which E has described as his "divorce album".

He warmly invites the crowd to "Take heart, my little friend/ And push back your seat/ Soon we'll be far away" as he opens with the twinkling story-book innocence of "Daisies of the Galaxy". It's the bright title track of Eels' 2000 album, which was famously condemned by an aide on Bush's presidential campaign for supposedly corrupting youth with expletives hidden in nursery-rhyme packaging. It serves as a taste of Eels' musical ethos. There can be sunny survival, though heartache and sadness are never far behind.

Poignancy is Eels' specialty, and its epitome comes on the beautifully delivered new track "In My Younger Days", where E's strong but soft, husky voice sings, "And I don't need any more misery/ To teach me what I should be/ I just need you back".

Not every number is an ode to doom and gloom. The band rip through a cover of Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City". "Monster and Me", famously used in the soundtrack to Shrek, is given an upbeat treatment whilst "Mr E's Beautiful Blues" could be playing through a jukebox in an American 1950s diner.

In true Eels style, after the sun comes pain, as strobe lighting and harsh guitar notes on "Fresh Blood" are inflicted on the crowd. Fingers reach for ears, but before they can make it, the song ends and the fans erupt with appreciation.