Songs from the Super Furry Animals frontman’s new solo album, Sadness Sets Me Free, make for a wonderfully cathartic live experience
This is a back-to-front gig. “I’m Gruff Rhys, and this is the band,” says the former Super Furry Animals front man, with a glint in his eye. “We’re in the second verse of the new single, Bad Friend.” Cue rapturous applause, as Rhys introduces his accomplices. The band strike up once more, play another verse, then stop again. “This is a chance for the band to check their monitors,” says Gruff with a smile to the audience, whereupon drummer Kliph Scurlock gets up and inspects his kit, a cue for the band to faff around some more, as though timewasting at the football.
They are on stage soon after their support, a sparsely kitted out version of Rozi Plain. In stripped back songs, the voices of Rozi (also a member of This Is The Kit) and Rachel Horwood dovetail beautifully. Light and shade is added to their music through bass guitar and banjo respectively, the hall falling silent in witness to their craft. On more than one occasion their sonic explorations evoke an update of the music of John Martyn, and they prove an ideal foil for what follows.
Like Gruff, they have a laconic approach moving sharply into focus when the expression demands it. With Rhys the approach is frequently deceptive, for his vocal range is as broad as ever, soaring to unexpected heights of pitch and intensity. This is the case for much of the new album Sadness Sets Me Free, which is the main soundtrack of the night, its songs coming to life in this guise. Kliph Scurlock and keyboard player Osian Gwynedd, both prodigiously talented musicians, sit facing each other at right angles to the audience, while behind at the back of the stage Huw V Williams adds weight and a dash of funk, while multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist Bitw provides all sorts of supporting harmonic goodness.
The band are performing under the guise of GR Logistics, whose blue and white uniforms they wear. Their strapline, “shipping emotional baggage since 1970”, adorns the shipping container on the TV screen behind them. We are invited to rid ourselves of said baggage by writing it on a piece of paper before the show and posting it in a box. Then, towards the end of the show, the contents are thoroughly inspected and posted in a shredder live on stage, a kind of buzzy musical interlude which takes place in the key of F major, to everyone’s amusement. Rhys attempts some musicality with the device, but even he can’t cajole it beyond the white noise you might have heard at the end of an old school Super Furries night.
The gig proves a wonderfully cathartic experience for those present, proceeding in brisk but upbeat fashion. We are told not to applaud Negative Vibes, from the Babelsberg album – a cue for comedy boos from the audience – but genuine applause rings out for the new material. The radio friendly choruses are charming but look beneath the surface and there is a steely resolve, hitting emotive depths in Cover Up The Cover Up and I Tendered My Resignation, softer songs aiming skilfully constructed barbs at the politicians of today.
Yet this is an evening to escape all of that, and by the concert’s close GR Logistics have achieved their shared aim – proving that sadness really can set us free.