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.
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.
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.