Review: Gruff Rhys at Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Published on October 13th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Buoyed by his recent Whale Trail of activity – oh yes we did – greatest living Welshman Gruff Rhys last night played his biggest solo show to date at west London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, in front of a crowd so readily celebrating their adoration of the man that you wonder where they’re all hiding on this Kings of Leon cover feature of a planet.
Rhys’ third solo outing Hotel Shampoo may have revealed the man to be in something of a sunshine-pop comfort zone but its colourful arrangements and bittersweet melodies have landed it a special place in Rocksucker’s heart over the course of this year.
From his Ffa Coffi Pawb days through to the present day via his hopefully soon-to-be-resuscitated role as Super Furry Animals main man, Rhys has proven himself utterly incapable of writing anything even close to a bad song – so, while Hotel Shampoo may have lacked the mysterious, campfire quality of 2007’s Candylion album, it more than made up for it with sheer, bittersweet gorgeousness.
Naturally, choice cuts from each were rolled out last night by Rhys and his very capable backing band Y Niwl, who along with former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci bassist turned solo artist Richard James provided the evening’s support. 2005’s scattergun solo debut Yr Atal Genhedlaeth was also well-represented, with “Pwdin Wy” parts one and two (punctuated by Rhys’ tremendously entertaining explanation of the songs’ narrative, which culminates in the amusingly abrupt demise of its protagonist lovers) and the delirious key-shifting of “Ni Yw Y Byd” providing two of the night’s highlights.
Elsewhere, a barnstorming rendition of “In a House With No Mirrors” from last year’s Tony da Gatorra collaboration album The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness, a full airing of the bubblegum mini-epic that is “Whale Trail”, a pounding exaggeration of “Cycle of Violence” and a compelling twenty-odd minute romp through “Skylon!” were all as breathtaking as Hotel Shampoo numbers like “If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)” and “Vitamin K” were utterly life-affirming.
Only “Honey All Over” disappointed, with its over-hurried chorus failing to do justice to the quiet majesty of its studio counterpart.
In between prompting audience participation by holding up a variety of signs bearing slogans such as ‘Applause’, ‘Tax the rich’ and, most frequently, ‘Woah!’, Rhys delivered a set brimming with his most (some might say only) predictable trait – namely, excellence – and Rocksucker awaits his next move with baited breath. Boom Bip has made noises about working with him on a follow-up to 2008’s oddly brilliant Neon Neon album Stainless Style, while there is the small matter of SFA studio album number ten to attend to in the fullness of time.
For now, though, allow us to once again doff our hat to one of the most prolific, fascinating and consistently excellent songwriters of his age, if not popular music history. Bravo, old chap!