- Group Listening
Wales stages a mini invasion of Arts Club tonight; it’s like a tasty buffet of contemporary Welsh music making. Support duo GROUP LISTENING’s combination of clarinet and piano/keyboard played by Sweet Baboo’s Stephen Black and Paul Jones respectively, lull into an easy, thoughtful frame of mind. The all too short set of ambient instrumental interpretations of music from a range of composers and songwriters is fresh and uplifting. In a version of Euros Childs’ The Dog, the isolation of the clarinet adds a touching poignancy. A soothing, simple piano replaces Childs’ original buzzy keys; it still retains that unique hymnal calm. Raymond Scott’s Happy Whistler, intended as a hypnotic baby coddler, we’re told, is cheery and bright.
There’s a mystery man lashing what looks like human teeth at Black and Jones from up above. But closer inspection reveals proceedings aren’t quite so macabre, it’s actually pistachio nuts. Is this a new rock ‘n’ roll thing?
When GRUFF RHYS ambles on to the stage half an hour later, it’s to Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, the same music Elvis Presley karate chopped in Las Vegas performance back in the 1970s. The Super Furry Animals front man is truly a fellow icon, albeit one slightly lower key and who enjoys natural fibres over an unforgiving polyester-stretch jumpsuit. He has a status carrying with it its own tributes and dedications. It seems fitting, then, that Rhys’ band is a current Cardiff super group of sorts, starring residents of the city. Stephen Black returns onstage for bass, sax and flute duties, an effervescent ex-Flaming Lip Kliph Scurlock settles behind the drum kit, and The Peth and Sibrydion’s Osian Gwynedd is master of the keyboard. Gruff Rhys himself sits with an acoustic guitar and picks up and twiddles with electronic gadgets arranged about his feet; when he does the latter, he’s happy to be in his own quirky little wizard world of beeps and squeaks.
The foursome take the unusual route of performing the Babelsberg album in faithful, formal running order, a move typically reserved for anniversary tours of decades old reissued records. There’s no need for a smattering of hits to keep interest piqued over this first hour; while Babelsberg is, it’s fair to say, Rhys’ straightest and most grown-up album to date, he’s not an artist to relax easily bask in past glories.
If anything, the performance tonight underpins what a favourite Babelsberg has become in these few short months. The orchestra on the recording isn’t missed in this more stripped down band arrangement. When Rhys performs the Lily Cole duet Selfies In The Sunset on his own, a more earthy charm replaces sweetness, the wit and irony staying firm. Negative Vibes invites audience participation; it gets it. Architecture Of Amnesia on Babelsberg leaps out because it wouldn’t be out of place on a Super Furry Animals album, yet live we have a barefooted Scurlock adding a little more risk; he seems ready to pounce into an adventurous drum solo, but pulls himself back to safety in the nick of time.
The following romp through Gruff Rhys’ back catalogue is an even more familiar pleasure. What a wonderful version of SFA’s Colonise The Moon with Black on glorious sax. There’s even a golden spotlight to match, with Rhys, a longstanding champion of the Welsh language and music, including the joyful Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru and Lolo.
There’s even room for storytelling, crowd favourite Skylon’s epic tale explained and printed out, pages and pages and pages of it. And we can’t forget the absurd theatre of the notorious handmade signs. TAX THE RICH (OK, sounds good), APPLAUSE (that was going to happen anyway, he’s safe) and the rest duly hoisted up, cheered at and lashed about – like pistachio nuts – bringing the experience to an anarchic and unexpectedly emotional end.