Gruff Rhys

Soho Theatre, London on Wednesday 7 May 2014

Gruff Rhys is a known fan of the concept album having previously released two under his 'Neon Neon' project – one about a rich Italian come left-wing publisher ('Praxis Makes Perfect') and another about the life of John DeLorean ('Stainless Style'). His latest solo venture is based around the life of Welshman John Evans, who travelled to America in search of supposed Native American tribes who owed a great deal to the Welsh and the album is delivered in a live setting as an almost three pronged experience – one part concert, one part comedy act and one part history lesson.

He starts with 'The Wheather (or not)' which is apparently getting its live airing for the first time and it perhaps shows a bit as he doesn't look entirely comfortable delivering an acoustic version but just about manages to pull it off without it being noticeable.

He's much more at home with the title track from the 'American Interior' album with which tonight is based around. Although, just like the rest of tonight's offerings they are all stripped from the more expansive components that can be found on the recorded versions it still carries weight with the sheer space like melodies and triumphant choruses which have bookmarked his career.

Looking out upon the stage it's clear that this is pretty much a one man show; there is a table with a variety of instruments and gizmos, one chair, a laptop, a guitar and a projector screen. A cavalcade of huge cue cards and a Muppet like doll of John Evans with which he took on his own journey to America which provides the bulk of tonight's comedy highlights.

The majority of the tunes are played in the accompaniment of just Gruff and his acoustic guitar and it gives them a raw earthy feel, while the stories and segways into songs are done with a deadpan ditzy humour that you could see Gruff being headhunted for his own comedy vehicle series on TV.

Although the bulk of the set is made up from the new album there is time for a few tracks from his earlier solo LPs which he manages to shoehorn into the narrative. 'Shark Ridden Waters' and 'Sensations in the Dark' although vastly different to that on record lend themselves well to an acoustic rendition.

He finishes with '100 Unread Messages' a love story intertwined with an overview of Hughes journey including arriving to Baltimore, becoming a renowned map maker, searching for the lost tribe of Indians who spoke in Welsh and the eventual culmination of his incredible journey.

His encore includes the Welsh language track 'Allweddellau Allweddol', a warped out journey into electronics through the Welsh language that sounds eerily like Fourtet's 'No More Mosquitos' on record. Gruff tries his best to replicate that sound through an effects pedal and what he has at hand. It's a fitting wig out from the lead singer of the band who finished so many of their sets in a similar vein. He has cue cards with 'APE SHIT' as a prompt for the crowd, but there is no need this time.


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article by: Paul Mullin

published: 09/05/2014 13:00