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Super Furry Animals The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA July 24, 2016

2016-07-28
By: Aug Stone
Posted in: Music

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The house darkens with the low pulse of a synth kick drum slowly counting out one…two…three…four… Spotlights search over and above the crowd. And then it ceases. A film begins on the large screen behind and the Super Furries walk out in hooded white jumpsuits resembling NASA outfits. They launch into ‘Slow Life’ with Gruff Rhys on a slightly out-of-tune harmonica, but he’s on pitch when he starts singing. After the first chorus Gruff dons a gigantic red motorcycle helmet, so large that he’s pressing the microphone into the eyescreen to line up with his mouth, giving a most disconcerting effect of where the sound is coming from. He’ll return to this later. Now he’s holding up signs for ‘APPLAUSE’, ‘LOUDER!’, and then ‘APE SHIT!’. The enthusiastic audience gladly takes heed. As ‘Slow Life’ winds to an end Cian Ciarán takes off the guitar he’s been strumming and takes a seat at his station of laptop, synths, and Fender Rhodes, located in the back to the left of Daf Ieuan’s drumset. Which is itself complete with two bass drums, something not witnessed by the average concertgoer in quite some time.

Gruff now straps on a lovely cherry red Gibson ES-335 and at various points throughout the show Huw Bunford is also wielding the same guitar, their left (Gruff) and right (Bunf) handedness and stage positions setting a nice frame. And it’s into ‘(Drawing) Rings Around The World’. The sound is better, you can feel the Rock more, and the crowd is very into it now. And it’s this song that will be stuck in my head over the following days. The 16mm films – provided by their friend Spencer, whom they’ll give a shout-out to after this song finishes – show pulsating concentric circles with Saturn occasionally juxtaposed over (very discombobulating) then cutting to spinning beachgoers. Up next is ‘Do Or Die’ with Bunf really laying into the fuzzy lead lines on a Les Paul now. ‘If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You’ is announced as being 20 years old, and it strikes one how in synch they are, a subtle power in the effortlessness with which they simultaneously hit the chords.

“I don’t know if this song makes any sense in Cambridge while you’re going through a heatwave. But where we come from…” A lovely version of ‘Hello Sunshine’ follows with Gruff on acoustic guitar and one is, not for the only time, impressed with Daf’s often understated but right-on drumming. ‘Pan Ddaw’r Wawr’ is up next, from their 2000 all Welsh-language album, Mwng. The backing film mixes crashing waves with galloping horses, and the somewhat broken-up tune consolidates – with a pretty melody from Cian driving it – into an excellent, though all-too-short, groove. ‘Run! Christian, Run!’ follows with Bunf throwing in tastefully subtle phased guitar licks and Guto Pryce’s held bass notes rattling the chest. Like ‘Pan Ddaw’r Wawr’ preceding it, ‘Run! Christian, Run!’ also grows much fuller at the outro, with cool high vocal ‘oo’s and ‘wah’s. As he does a few times tonight, Bunf offers a Japanese thank you at song’s conclusion with ‘Arigato’.

‘Hometown Unicorn’ hits its first chorus that from out of nowhere becomes a few moments of glory. There’s something about it that’s just so right. The second time around doesn’t quite match it, though is still ace. Bunf’s been droning with an ebow and Gruff gives a nice fuzzy acoustic solo. ‘Zoom!’ opens with Twilight Zone-esque synth sounds, Bunf later providing proper wah-wah notes. The film shows spacey black and white concentric circles with a pink ring in the middle. It takes a while to realize these circles are chorus girls huddled close together. Gruff’s now using a vocoder for ‘Juxtapozed With U’ and before the song begins, the word ‘Massachusetts’ sounds very cool through the effect. The ‘APPLAUSE’ and ‘LOUDER’ signs are back for the intro and the crowd is swaying throughout the tune’s breezy disco. At its end Gruff holds up ‘PROLONGED APPLAUSE’.

And now one side of the sign in his hands says ‘BING’, and when flipped its reverse reads ‘BONG’. This is by way of heralding the Super Furries’ first new single in seven years, their anthem for this year’s European Championship. Recalling his antics during the opening number, Gruff explains, “It’s based on an old Welsh language folk idiom we’ve appropriated into a pop song. What also differentiates it from folk music is I’m going to attempt to sing it through my right eye. I hope I have your support. Over the years I’d tried various orifices. I’ve always found the mouth to be the most successful. Though I’m going to try out my left eye tonight too.” Referring to his gigantic helmet which he now dons, “I wear protective gear for your safety.” Headgear on, arms raised, voice over the synth drone, the guitar feeding back as the drums build, there’s excitement in the air over this new song. It immediately makes you want to dance. The bassline is very busy, one might even say frantic. The screen behind shows a 70s cheerleader film. As the song continues to grow it gets disorienting, with the band singing the title against where the “bing bong”s fall on the backing track. Until it all finally comes together. But still in a sense that feels like it’s building. Although ‘Bing Bong’ felt like it would at any moment, it never fully explodes into an all-out party on the dancefloor. Which was a little disappointing.

‘The International Language Of Screaming’ is more at pace with where ‘Bing Bong’ should’ve been. Great ‘oo’s and ‘la’s and even better freak-out screams and rock guitars. And ‘Golden Retriever’ brings the Rock even further, all bluesy stomp, driving beat, and distorted guitars. It feels Wild. The film humourously shows a dog repeatedly jumping on two legs at a fence before switching to a dancing blonde’s head and arms, her hair shaking and flipping. Mega Rock Poses at the end with guitars raised over their heads.

Introducing ‘Receptacle For The Respectable’, Gruff informs us “This next song features Paul McCartney on the recording. We can’t actually do it tonight, he sends a personal message of regrets.” (for fascinating story regarding this see here - http://www.the-paulmccartney-project.com/song/receptacle-for-the-respectable/ ) A member of the audience shouts “What about Ringo?” Gruff: “I imagine he’s on a yacht, reclining…eating grapes” Bunf: “…baked beans…” Much laughter. ‘Receptacle’ isn’t as Rock as the previous two but it’s still powerful as a Pop song. Gruff hands out a plate of carrots (referencing the above linked story) right before they start digging into the outro, and taking it to a big Rock ending. Bunf sliding his guitar against the mic stand before Gruff and Guto join him, all three rubbing their guitars together in the air.

Over submarine sounds from Cian, Gruff announces it’s their “last night of the North American tour” and that this next one “goes out to anyone who’s from the mountains”. Shouts from the crowd. Gruff: “What range are you from?” Bunf: “Big or small, we’re not that bothered.” Gruff: “Or the mountains of the mind, that’s acceptable.” And into ‘Mountain People’ with its nice relaxed hypnotic drive, the bass bubbling under the power chords. Synths and low end continuing to do so even after the band stops and the electronic drums kick in. Gruff’s now kneeling in front of his pedals making guitar noise and they kick back into a stomp that you want to go on forever, even past the many minutes that it does.

This segues very nicely into the final rousing ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’. And it’s powerful, especially in light of everything going on in the world right now. The band leaves the stage all too soon with Gruff and Guto simultaneously taking off their instruments. Cian stays, tweaking a spaced-out loop, a determined rhythmic pulse. And soon the rest of the Super Furries are back in full Yeti costumes complete with long blond wigs. Gruff’s suit features an eyeball over the crotch. The song’s sample is now playing and they’re giving it everything they got with the Rock guitar poses. The whole song now passing the eight minute mark, Gruff holds up a sign ‘RESIST PHONEY ENCORES!’ before ‘THANK YOU’ and ‘THE END’. With a mixture in the air of the heavy tone of this last song and the fun they’ve brought to the evening, these now very literally Super Furry Animals stroll off stage. It’s good to have them back.

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