Gruff Rhys, the multifaceted lead singer of Super Furry Animals, stopped by The Horseshoe Tavern on Monday night, performing songs off his latest solo effort, American Interior. With a solemn acoustic guitar and strategically placed mics, the stage initially recalled the ambience of a troubadour ready to pour his heart out as he gently plucked away to the hushed Toronto crowd. Evidently, even the house music that proceeded his arrival – Gene Clark’s 1971 country-rock masterpiece White Light – anticipated a performance of introspective aplomb.
Yet, when one considers Gruff’s tenure with his Super Furry Animals – veteran Welsh rockers, not only associates of the fabled Britpop era, but habitual purveyors of psychedelia, electronic experimentation, and cheeky song titles – you have to figure there’s something up his sleeve.
And so, my later intuition proved correct. No sooner was Gruff settling into the audience’s warm reception then he was signaling a pair of stage hands to help physically tape a make-shift screen to the frayed ceiling, projector already revved up with its illuminating beam of faded images.
Seems American Interior has been a passion project of Rhys’ for some time, conceptually focused as the thematic base of his new record, published book, and live concert dates. It centres on the real life of John Evans, a Welsh explorer who trekked North America in the 1700s in the search of Welsh-speaking natives. The twist, however, is that the Evans character is presented as an on-stage muppet/effigy of sorts, his “story” slideshow displayed on the screen (very low-budget production values, I might add) as intervals to Rhys’ quasi-soundtrack. Always humorous, yet perhaps stretched a smidgeon too far in parts, Gruff ultimately parlayed his multi-format project into an entertaining one.
As for the songs, what can you say about a performer who has been able to consistently explore and reinvent, effortlessly jumping from acoustic paeans to the pulsating tribal-ness of “Allweddellau Allweddol” (the evening’s most infectious melody). In the final moments of Gruff’s set, as his voice echoed in layered harmonies (via a loop effects pedal), I couldn’t help but notice the striking similarity it bore to that of The Who’s Pete Townshend. Yet, coincidence aside, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Here are two leaders of their respective bands, who, past or present, wagered their creative identities with concept albums.
It’s not so much who’s next for Gruff Rhys, but what’s next.
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Review and Photos by Myles Herold |