Eels, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

This was a night of introspective music, the majority of which came from Everett's sublime new double album, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations.

This was a night of introspective music, the majority of which came from Everett's sublime new double album, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. The record, like its equally ravaged and beautiful predecessor Shootenanny! marries naggingly catchy melodies with lyrics full of anguish, humour and lamentation - "Nothing hurts/ like someone who knows/ everything about you/ leaving you behind" ("Last Time We Spoke").

Everett, aka E, has had an exceptionally rough ride, and you sense the hushed audience were "with him". E's sister committed suicide, his mum died of cancer, he lost his dad at a young age and on 11 September 2001 his cousin was on the plane that hit the Pentagon. It's small wonder that E is jaded and mildly misanthropic - "I don't leave the house much/ I don't like being around people", he says on "Things the Grandchildren Should Know".

Tonight E sat protected and encased by an intimate gathering of musicians - a string quartet, Big Al on double bass, and an organist. E's unruly beard was trimmed and he was dressed in a dapper suit. He smoked a cigar and took the occasional sip of what appeared to be scotch. He was trying to produce a smoky, bar-room feel. However, he didn't quite pull it off. He needed to talk to the audience more. Instead he rattled through his nursery rhymes for the despairing with unnerving rapidity. He careered through 15 songs (mostly from new album) in 45 minutes. Had he forgotten to video ER or something? There were no pauses for breath.

This was a conceptual performance full of ambition, but lacking soul and intensity. Even his wonderfully droll and scathing "Son of a Bitch", which contains the redolent lyrics "Daddy was a drunk/ a most unpleasant man/ asleep on the floor/ just inside the front door/ with a smile underneath his red nose", lacked the impact it should have.

However, the crowd, reverentially, stayed with him, applauding politely with the very occasional whoop, as on "I Like Birds" from 2000's Daisies of the Galaxy. Then we were treated to a lovely version of Dylan's "Girl of the North Country", and the achingly touching "I'm Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart" from the new album. After three encores it was clear we were not going to get "Novocaine for the Soul", "Mr E's Beautiful Blues" or the wonderful "Restraining Order Blues" - which just about completed the general air of confusion and disappointment.

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