©2015 Stefania Ianne – All rights reserved. Twitter @stillarte
Flying back to Europe from the States, it feels like going back from summer to the beginning of spring, basically back to winter. The light too, not only the temperature, is different, and I feel I am in total sensorial shock. It is in this state of confusion that I get ready to go and see Super Furry Animals, back in London for the promotion of Mwng, their only album entirely in Welsh. It is a reissue to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the album’s first edition and 20 years since the band started. Expectations are high, the Furry Animals have not been playing live together for at least 6 years. This is their second consecutive gig in London at the Brixton Academy, following 3 live dates in their hometown Cardiff and a few performances in other venues scattered around the rest of the UK.
Following the performance of a band called Magic Numbers, preparations for the Super Furry set seem to never end. The skeletal cranes featuring the spotlights are a powerful reminder that we are in for a visual as well as a musical show. While we wait, beer is being downed in large scale quantities: I am stepping on a carpet of discarded plastic cups. The general mood feels positive, a couple of amazingly polite guys address my concert mate suggesting she should move in front of them as they are taller and might spoil the concert for her. This is unheard of: stampedes are the rule when audiences would do just about anything in order to see and touch their idols. It must be the large and jovial Welsh presence, it definitely feels different.
After what feels like ages, finally some rotating white spotlights break the darkness to mark the start of the concert, while the instrumental (A) Touch Sensitive is announced by a crescendo of keyboards and special effects. I assume Cian Ciáran is sitting at his keyboard in pitch darkness, together with the rhythm section, but I have no way of verifying that. The light increases slowly to show the two guitars get on stage halfway through the song, filling the hall with a wall-to-wall feedback effect while lysergic images suddenly colour the monochrome blackness of the walls of the venue. The band members are dressed in white overalls, the ones used by decorators and Greenpeace activists, with hoods. Interesting choice. Then, Gruff Rhys, positioned on the left, strikes up the catchy notes of (Drawing) Rings Around the World and the venue is immediately ready to explode in a collective dance. I notice that fans in the first rows are singing all the lyrics together with Rhys. How many are going to sing in Welsh? Over the years, SFA have produced an unparalleled series of singles: an original mix of catchy tunes, with a quiet acid guitar sound and an all-encompassing rhythmic base layer, all of the above completed by an unpredictable keyboard sound. And tonight they are showcasing many of their hits and everything appears to be working like clockwork, their musical performance enhanced by the creative lighting: a total experience.
The more melodic first half of the gig evolves seamlessly into the central portion showcasing Mwng, the Welsh section of the concert. Rhys’ guitar, enigmatically named ‘Ausencia’ (absence), becomes acoustic. Brass instruments appear at both sides of the stage as if to mark the unexpected sudden cosiness of the performance. Rhys’s falsetto becomes more intense and at times unexpectedly playful like in Ymaelodi Â’r Ymylon. Every so often his voice becomes the expression of grief, sometimes it sounds like a strangled cry powerfully enhanced by the skeletal arrangement of the most bare musical production by the Welsh band. At the beginning of the second half of the concert, the spectacular lighting show we have enjoyed so far gives way to a projection of Mwng’s cover artwork: the black and white head of a fantasy animal looks at us. This is a trick repeated several times during the night: cartoon images extracted from their videos and covers subliminally flash on the big monitor at their back during the performance. The transition from English to Welsh and vice versa takes us by surprise a couple of times during the evening, but it always sounds natural, like when Pan Ddaw’r Wawr changes into the sarcastic ballad Run Christian Run. Hello Sunshine warms us up and relaxes us thanks to the presence of a huge sun projected behind the musicians. Gwreiddiau Dwfn literally makes us travel in time and space starting with a deceitful introduction, almost as quiet as a lullaby, until unexpected electronic harmonies start growing introduced by a hypnotic keyboard sound, up to that moment obscured by the loud brass instruments in the foreground. Nothing is ever what it seems in a Super Furry Animals tune. They somehow always manage to keep us poised on the brink of a new emotion.
Slow Life inaugurates the final electro-pop/disco part of the concert. It’s Saturday night after all, and people want to dance off the tension accumulated during their working week. In Juxtapozed with U Rhys’s voice is mediated by a huge helmet positioned in a custom built pulpit, something between a submarine and a spaceship. The retro fur craziness of Golden Retriever is inevitable. By now we are all infected and I expect our clothes to turn into yeti costumes at any time, it is only a matter of when. The transformation occurs between Mountain People and The Man Do not Give A Fuck, the political manifesto ritually used as the closing song for all SFA concerts and compulsory during these highly politicised days of the general election. The video behind the band is quite impressive, with footage of Lenin appearing intermittently and addressing the crowds, supported by the rhythm of insistent, intermittent, powerful psychedelic lights. We are fast approaching the end of the concert and the Furry Animals have now turned into yetis during a particularly spaced out and topical performance of MDGAF while, once again, Ciarán holds the fort with his special effects. Several times during the gig Rhys puts down his guitar to hold a sign requesting the audience to ‘APPLAUD’ and then to applaud ‘LOUDER’. The audience obeys. SFA’s spacecraft is ready to take off and the musicians leave the stage after over two hours of total music. I was confused before entering the Brixton Academy, now I feel I am floating in another sensorial dimension. Outside the venue, though, reality hits us abruptly: the touts have reinvented themselves as dodgy curb retailers selling T-shirts that not even a monkey could call official.
- (A) Touch Sensitive
- (Drawing) Rings Around The World
- Do Or Die
- Ice Hockey Hair
- Northern Lites
- Ymaelodi â’r Ymylon
- Y Gwyneb Iau
- Nythod Cacwn
- Pan Ddaw’r Wawr
- Run! Christian, Run!
- Hello Sunshine
- Hometown Unicorn
- Arnofio / Glô in the Dark
- God! Show Me Magic
- Gwreiddiau Dwfn/Mawrth Oer Ar y Blaned Neifion
- Slow Life
- Juxtapozed With U
- The International Language of Screaming
- Golden Retriever
- Receptacle For The Respectable
- Fire In My Heart
- Mountain People
- The Man Don’t Give a Fuck