This review was first published on The Line of Best Fit.
“The second best thing about this keyboard” Gruff Rhys tells us, after proudly showing us a red light running across the keys, “is that it has a beat which sounds like Gangster’s Paradise by Coolio.” He plays it. “Now I’m going to speed it up”. And he does, forming the backing track to new song ‘Sensations in the Dark’, the title of which could also be the whole evening’s, as Gruff entertains and delights a partisan crowd on a sparsely lit stage.
The enjoyment of a Gruff Rhys gig is in the unexpected. Sure, you know that he’s going to play some songs, but beyond that, you’re never quite sure what he’s going to come up with next. For instance, I wouldn’t have predicted his idiosyncratic take on a Friday night chat show, with Gruff the genial, if a little underprepared host. His first guest (cue theme music courtesy of a 7 inch record) is Stephen ‘Sweet Baboo’ Black, invited on to sing one of his own songs, whilst Gruff retires momentarily.
He returns to announce his second special guest, this one perhaps less unexpected. Lisa Jen, a regular collaborator and contributor to Gruff’s previous album Candylion, came on to sing backing vocals on a few songs from that record, and indulge in a bit of camaraderie. Gruff can’t quite persuade her to sing a song from his new album that she hasn’t heard, so he launches into an awesome rendition of ‘Cycle of Violence’, complete with mad looping into which he throws all his assembled low-fi gadget orchestra. He even works new single ‘Shark Ridden Waters’ in at the end, this time fully dressed up in electronic garb to contrast with the earlier acoustic rendition.
It’s a terrific gig. Rhys is a consummate showman without being the least bit showmanly. His deadpan, off-the-cuff style is hilarious, even when opening the show with a self-declared song about genocide. He’s terribly accommodating too – even replaying part of ‘In the Court of King Arthur’ for someone who missed it when they were in the loo.
As a taster for his forthcoming album Hotel Shampoo, it’s ideal. The new songs sound superb. The old ones like familiar friends. A charming evening in a lovely venue makes these Super Furries split rumours feel like nothing to worry about. When Gruff Rhys is in this sort of form, the future is exciting and unpredictable.
The single ‘Shark Ridden Waters’ is out now on Turnstile. The album Hotel Shampoo follows in February.
There are more videos of the gig, including a few new songs, here on YouTube.