Last year XS Noizereviewed the best of In the Round which saw The Levellers triumph, performing an elated acoustic rendition of their hits spanning across a career which is now over thirty years old. In the Round now returns for the fourth year in a row with more one-off intimate performances by artists including Gryff Rhys (Super Furry Animals). XS Noize returned to the Roundhouse to see if Gryff Rhys was able to give a performance that could match 2018’s In the Round success.
Everything suddenly when black, not even a seldom emergency light could be spotted and the music from the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey began to play. The lights then came on and Gryff Rhys entered the stage with three musicians and two female backing singers. At first, Rhys (ditching the poncho he has worn in some of his promotional music videos and occasional elaborate headwear for a humble beanie) appeared mute, communicating only through a double-sided placard saying Babelsberg and “Side 1” before he welcomed everyone to Babelsberg.
With Babelsberg being the title of Gryff’s latest, fifth LP, he naturally began with this albums’ first track Frontier Man. Rhys played Babelsberg in its entirety and in the same order of play with a brief interlude after track five, Take that Call, to hold a placard up to say that we was now going to play “Side 2” of the LP. The overall sound was a darker and heavier take on Belle and Sebastian and Conor Oberst. However, there were transgressions with Same Old Song borrowing its sound from Bob Dylan’s Planet Waves LP and Selfies in the Sunset, despite its less than optimistic lyrics including “World champions of despair. You may wonder why I care. Apocalyptic mushroom clouds tower above us, I think aloud”; the tune was catchy with a gentle instant pop elating feel.
After playing Babelsberg, his highest charting solo album to date; Rhys played Super Furry Animal track: Colonise the Moon. This was a perfect Super Furry Animal track to play, reflecting the mark mature, often dark messages, warnings and observations of modern times which are explored on Babelsberg. Colonise the Moon opened with an intro resonant to Fairport Convention’s A Sailor’s Life, which then exploded into something colossal with a booming sax solo sounding largely like David Bowie’s Blackstar, whilst also perplexingly, sounding slightly like the sax on George Michael’s Careless Whisper. These fused together emotions complimented the lyrics “They’ll fight to extinction” all too well. An accompanying placard saying “Brexit is a bad sax solo” also equally captivated the thoughts and feelings of the audience. The goofing which characterised some of the earlier Super Furry Animal’s sound in the early days was absent, for In the Round and for this style of intimate performance; it wasn’t sacrosanct.
From here Rhys took seldom a pause between playing each track which the crowd responded well, engaging more directly with Rhys and the band. The stage lighting improve too; you could see Rhys playing left handed and the band members more visibly, as well as their passion for the songs they were playing. Rhys played Iolo, Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be) and American Interior off his 2014 album, American Interior, inspired by John Evans, an 18th-century explorer who travelled to America in 1792 on a mission to find a Welsh-speaking Native American tribe. Rhys effortlessly kept up momentum by playing at least one track from each of his solo LP’s and by occasionally holding up a one-sided placard when the audience applauded saying “LOUDER!”.
Rhys’s rendition of Sensations in the Dark off his 2011 Hotel Shampoo LP engaged the audience, not solely because of its instant catchiness; but equally because of the pre-warning placard: “resist phoney encores”, which had the “e” and the “s” half removed from the word “encore”. True to his word (or placard), there were no phoney encores, when the double-sided placard with “the end” and “thank you” came up; the show ended. Whilst the crowd was disappointed, it was a disappointment that was always inevitable; with over fourteen acclaimed albums across his solo career and with the Super Furry Animals (including two Welsh language albums); the crowd were always going to be left wanting more.
Gruff Rhys Setlist at Roundhouse, London, England
Limited Edition Heart
Take That Call
Drones in the City
Same Old Song
Architecture of Amnesia
Selfies in the Sunset
Colonise the Moon
(Super Furry Animals song)
Gwn Mi Wn
Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)
Sensations in the Dark
Ni Yw Y Byd
Cycle of Violence
Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru
If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)