Saturday, May 9, 2015

Super Furry Animals at Brixton Academy, 8th May 2015

The eighth of May 2015 was a shitty day in almost all respects. At 6am the sun slithered over the horizon to greet the full horror of a Conservative Party majority government. On television, newspapers, the internet - even video displays on bus shelters - David Cameron beamed, the man turgid with excitement at the prospect of realising his darkest free market fantasies. I was coming off all an all nighter for the election; the experience hurling me through the K├╝bler-Ross stages of grief.

Having spent most of the day nakedly quivering in fear and disappointment underneath a duvet, I walked into the Brixton Academy with a heavy heart. But c'mon, if any band are going to cheer me up it's going to be the Super Furry Animals. 

Led by affable polymath Gruff Rhys, the band are, for my money, the finest band to come out of Wales in the last 20 years (maybe longer!). Though they successfully rode the Britpop wave to success, they never quite rose to the heights of a Blur, Oasis or Pulp. Nonetheless, their unique combination of pop, psychedelia, surreal lyrics and experimentalism has aged beautifully. Now, this 'reunion' tour functions as a tour through Super Furry history, pulling dusty old costumes and props out of storage, running through the best tunes and reminding everyone just how damn good this band is.

The setlist draws from the first half of the career, with only one song from 2005's Lovekraft and nothing from Hey Venus! (2007) or Dark Days/Light Years (2009). Those albums are certainly no slouches, but this is essentially a greatest hits show, so damn near every single and famous album song from their early career is jammed into an extensive and well-curated two hours. 

Obvious highlights are the electro surf-rock of (Drawing) Rings Around the World, with scratchy garage band riffs competing with ascending synth lines in the background as Gruff Rhys authoritatively sings "Earth will become Saturn II!" and references Shin'ya Tsukamoto's excellent freak-horror flick Tetsuo II: Body Hammer. Similar fun comes in the stupidly fun Golden Retriever, sending the crowd into a happy, sweaty, bouncy fit of pleasure, as does Something 4 the Weekend from their debut album.

Things take a turn towards low-fi pastoral in a lengthy segue through Mwng, their recently r-released 2000 Welsh language album. This marks the one point in the show where the audience calms down a bit. Mwng is an excellent album, but four peaceful sunset songs in a row drains a little energy from the audience. Plus, it's hard to sing along in Welsh. Even so, there's a perverse thrill in being at a sold out Brixton Academy gig watching a London audience enjoying a series of Welsh language songs.

But it's Receptacle for the Respectable, Slow Life, Mountain People and Run Christian Run! that left me most dazzled. These songs are epic musical adventures, switching up genres mid-song, willing to have extensive techno interludes and building to gargantuan, sensory overloading, maelstroms of sound and light. A gigantic projection screen playing snatches of blurred archive footage, remixes of their videos and what looks like recreations of the 'Beyond the Infinite' sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. On top of that, a tiny spherical robot positioned at stage rear emits hypnotic laser rainbow loops. Slices of light revolve above us, transforming the slowly evaporating sweat of the crowd into shimmering, dancing fractal patterns. It's pretty far out.

My highlight of highlights was Hello Sunshine. This gentle Beatles-y number is one of their best songs and contains the immortally romantic couplet "I'm a minger. You're a minger too. So come on minger, I want to ming with you." It's touching, humble, sweet and funny all at once - the cherry on top of a perfectly happy pop song. But last night something weird happened. Midway through the song, the band paused before those famous lines and the crowd spontaneously went completely fucking bananas. This wasn't an ordinary cheer, more like some psychic release valve being opened. For me, after an incredibly shitty day it was the first time I felt a glimmer of hope pierce the misery. For the only point that night the band looked perplexed, looking over at each other and shrugging. With no sign of it abating, Gruff Rhys smiled and gave us a confused thumbs-up, allowing him to get on with the song.

With that, and the climactic mass mosh pit of The Man Don't Give a Fuck, I left the place cheered up. Unless you're a rich man the next five years are going to be a grim era of ashes and tears, but even in the midst of that there's still precious moments that we need to cling onto as tightly as we can. 

It was a truly excellent gig, underlining the this band's place in the British musical canon and reminding us of the sheer wealth of pleasures contained in the band's songbook. Though Gruff Rhys, with his solo albums, side projects and documentaries, is far from a distant presence, I hope the Super Furry Animals project remains a going concern. There's an abundance of life, good cheer and joy in the Super Furry Animals - who're capable of putting a silver lining on even the most threateningly grey and gigantic of clouds.

Super Furry Animals play the Brixton Academy again tonight

All pictures used courtesy of Jason Williamson.

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