Soho Theatre – May 5th
There’s gonna be a bit, in a bit, when a collective awareness comes together. Discographies will be studied, songs listened back to with wide-eyed awe, graphs will be drawn and a conclusion reached: Turns out it was Gruff Rhys that made the most consistently imaginative, intelligent, and just absolutely loveable music of a generation.
Us, here at the first night of a five evening stint at The Soho Theatre, – the room simply adorned with projector, record player boasting BBC sound effect vinyl, and a desk covered in Gruff’s various noise toys – we don’t need any convincing. The man is treated with the reverence due to someone that has daubed everything he’s touched, from Super Furry Animals, to Neon Neon and his own solo work, in dazzling pop genius.
His latest concept – no, not concept, that sounds too clinical – let’s go for ‘narrative odyssey’…his latest narrative odyssey concerns the adventure of one John Evans; a distant relative of Gruff, who (long-story-short) travelled from Wales to America in search of a fabled tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans. Obviously.
This isn’t the place to retell the tale, let’s leave that to the soft Welsh burr it sounds best in. This is the place to tell you that Gruff is perfectly Gruff tonight. Charming as hell, bumbling amongst his various props and instruments, taking absolute delight in regaling us with a story rooted in fact, but seemingly doused in liberal embellishment and light-hearted regard for his relative’s extraordinary quest.
And, of course, the journey is soundtracked by his latest idiosyncratic solo album, American Interior, – well apart from a bit where he confesses “I should sing a song about being on a boat, really…but, erm, i don’t have any” – a record that veers between rolling country’n’western, tear-soaked ballads, acoustic strums and playful electronica with a gleeful alacrity few could match.
Yet, as he always manages, the songs work wonderfully as an album, on their own and with or without the context of John Evan’s enterprise. Gruff’s gift is for making this all seem so inclusive, making it feel like we’re sat in the pub with him, being told the tale face-to-face, making each song personal. He also, somehow, crowbars ‘The Court Of King Arthur’ into this anecdote of American trail-blazing, and makes it seem a perfect fit.
Tonight is a night to savour and treasure; bubbling over with warmth, wit and ingenuity, but you wouldn’t even say this is a guy operating at the peak of his powers, because the level never seems to waiver, he’s always this good. You could say, though, it’s time for a far wider recognition of this incredible talent, and that it really might be time to start drawing up those graphs.
LIVE: Soho Theatre – May 6th – 10th (Sold Out)