Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Gruff Rhys | Knitting Factory | 5.18.2011

Gruff Rhys has a very distinctive “thankyouverymuch” Maybe not as classic as Peter Frampton’s, but it’s got its own charm, slowly slurring out the “thhhhhh” and then speeding through the “ankyouverymuch” like it was one syllable. It makes me smile every time he says it (which is after every song). Charming, self effacing, funny and slightly unintelligible…Gruff Rhys in a nutshell.

This was the first night of Gruff’s North American tour that will find him back in NYC in a month or so at Mercury Lounge on June 15. “This is the first night of our American tour. “It should be interesting to compare and contrast,” he mused. ” No vacant stares last night, though the smell of weed permeated Knitting Factory the second Gruff took the stage.

For previous tours the shaggy Super Furry Animals lead singer has usually truly played solo, with only a tableful of junkshop keyboards, turntables, metronomes as backing. For this tour, in support of his new album Hotel Shampoo, he brought along Gwynedd surf rock combo Y Niwl (“The Fog”) for backing and as openers. (They were great.) Which meant a louder show, though no less meandering or funny. Rhys is a showman at heart.

There were signs explaining the title “Conservation Conversation”; he taught the audience the first line of Hotel Shampoo closer “Rubble Rubble” so we’d recognize it and clap when it started, as “nobody makes it to the end of albums.” (Not true, Gruff!) He also indulged in his love of key changes with “Ni Yw Y Byd” which contains six of them. I dont’ quite love them as much as he does.

The set was a little front-loaded with hits: we got “Shark Ridden Waters,” “Candylion,” and “Sensations in the Dark” right off the bat, leaving the rest of the 90+ minute set with lesser-known, more mellow material. Though, really, there aren’t a lot of casual Gruff Rhys fans and the 100 or so who made it out in the rainy rain stayed the whole set and demanded an encore.

“We only have time for one more,” Gruff informed the disappointed audience (“THREE MORE!”). “It’s a ballad and it’s 15 minutes long.” At that point he donned a airline emergency vest and launched into “Skylon!,” the epic and awesome closing track from Candylion which tells a tale of love and terror at 20,000 feet. It’s not one second too long.

MP3: Gruff Rhys – Skylon! (buy it)

The best song on new album Hotel Shampoo is most certainly “Shark Ridden Waters,” which is based almost entirely around samples from “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” by obscure ’60s pop group The Cyrkle. It’s one of those tracks — like The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” or Jens Lekman’s “Black Cab” — where wholesale appropriation in the hands of someone clever and creative results in something strikingly original.

MP3: Gruff Rhys – Shark Ridden Waters (Buy it)
MP3: The Cyrkle – It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (Buy It)

Gruff returns to NYC on June 15 at Mercury Lounge, with Y Niwl, beards and blank stares. Sad to report they did not have the “Honey All Over” mugs at the merch table. (He also didn’t play that song either!) All dates on his North American tour are below.

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What Up with Gruff Rhys? A Lot.

 
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Gruff Rhys stays busy. When he's not recording with Super Furry Animals or writing concept albums about the Delorean or making great solo albums… he still does other stuff! Currently, two more things. Both of which are a) connected, and b) pretty weird.

The first actually sounds amazing. Rhys stars and co-directs (with Dylan Goch) the quasi documentary Separado! which follows Rhys across continents in seach of a lost uncle. The official synopsis:

Star Trek meets Buena Vista Social Club in this psychedelic western musical as Welsh pop legend Gruff Rhys takes us on a pan continental road trip in search of his long lost Patagonian uncle, the poncho wearing guitarist RENE GRIFFITHS. 

In 1880, following a controversial horse race that led to an unresolved death, Gruff Rhys’ family split as Dafydd Jones took his young family to join the burgeoning Welsh community in Patagonia, South America. There was to be no contact between the families for almost a century when in 1974 Rene Griffiths arrived in Wales with his Latin infused Welsh love songs and became an over night sensation.

It played the L.A. Film Festival last week, and Variety said:

"Nominally concerned with tracking down the singer's mysterious uncle in South America, this sui generis film is equally devoted to travelogue, exiperimental music, Welsh history and the properties of a magical Power Rangers helmet…with frequent pit stops of concerts (including one for a crown consisting entirely of wild horses), interviews with local characters and cheeky freak-out interludes. Yet even when the nostop digressions begin to test one's patience, the film is always easy on the eyes and ears, and a dramatization of 19th-century Welsh emigration via Bollywood-style interpretive dance is worth the price of admission."

Here's the trailer:

And the opening titles

      

I don't think Separado! has a North American distributor at this time, but maybe it'll play at CMJ or the NYC Film fest? It's currently touring the UK, with Gruff performing as well. Some of the dates also feature an odd, cosmic-looking dude in a headband you may have spotted in the trailer. 

 
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That would be Tony da Gatorra, "a Brazilian TV and VCR repairman, musical freedom fighter and the inventor of his own unique ‘Gatorra’ instrument." While in Brazil filming Separado!, Rhys made an album with the guy which is called The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness which is credited to Tony da Gatorra Vs. Gryf Rhys and it's out today. Rhys explains further:

We spent 5 days rehearsing a set of songs to play live at the venue – our only shared language was music itself so there was no small talk, just intense
concentration on the music. On the final day, as the rehearsals had been so productive, we hooked up some recording equipment and took about 5 hours out to make this record.
We recorded several live takes of each song then chose the best versions. I added a harmony vocal overdub on two songs, otherwise it’s pretty much what we recorded at
the time. 

Upon returning to Cardiff I took the songs to producer Kris Jenkins’s studio whose excitement for the album and general encouragement was infectious – then we called in noise legend Sir Doufus Styles to oversee the final mix.
Armed with 5 flasks of strong coffee, 75 sticks of gum and a bank of vintage compressors we mixed The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness at extremely loud volume in one epic 12 hour session.

The result kind of sounds like a South American version of The Fall. Clanky old-school drum machines, fuzzed-out guitar, repetition, a lot of shout-talking by an old dude, the occasional melody. Gruff exerts his influence on this one:

MP3: Tony da Gatorra Vs Gruff Rhys – In a House with No Mirrors (buy it)

UK Separado! screening dates are after the jump.

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