Live Review

Gruff Rhys, Toynbee Studios, London

It is, for want of a less gushing word, genius.

The essence of a good review is honesty and objectivity, right? That, if a gig is shit and our pre-conceptions of a glittering night out are not met, my role is to ensure that, with no malice intended, I let you know straight away so you can save your pennies for something more substantial, like a good sandwich or some new shoes. So in the name of my own integrity, I feel it is only appropriate to stipulate, for the record and from the outset; I have a crush the size of a small country on tonight’s main contender, the beautiful and enigmatic Gruff Rhys. No objectivity shall be found here then, rather a little objectifying instead.

Anyway, that out in the open and immediately glossed over, tonight we’re treated to a set of two halves, the first, just the man, in what’s best described as his best Christmas jumper, and an acoustic guitar playing what he describes as “his depressing songs”, and the second, well, we’ll get to that later.

Cheerily informing us that the opening song has recently featured as the soundtrack to a genocide scene in a film, Gruff screws his eyes up and serenades us with a plethora of new songs from the Andy Votel produced new album, ‘Hotel Shampoo’. So far, I’ve managed to concentrate and not daydream too much about swapping places with that guitar (that jumper helped) as he serenades us with new tracks such as ‘Sophie Softly’, blending in seamlessly with some Welsh language songs I cannot even begin to name (let alone spell), but am presuming to be from debut album, ‘Yr Atal Genhedlaeth’. It’s all good, but the truth is, when playing live, Gruff Rhys’ real success is when he’s playing with that trestle table full of toys.

So when Mister Rhys (as the restraining order dictates I call him from here onwards) thanks us for foregoing Friday night television to spend the night with him, proceeds to sit down at the table, pop a vinyl record on a hitherto unnoticed turntable, and announces that we’re now watching his new chat show, ‘No Phoney Encores’, that’s when the real (less hormonally driven) excitement kicks in. First guest is Sweet Baboo, a man pronounced to be so talented that Rhys leaves the stage. Initial annoyance at this turn of events passes quickly, as the Welsh twin brother of London’s own Wave Pictures proves the initial declaration of his talent to indeed be wholly justified.

Next guest, excitingly, is the exquisite Lisa Jen, whose vocal talents were a predominant feature on Candylion, Rhys’ sophomore solo work. Here, then, is where those toys literally come into play, with glow in the dark keyboards (with a pre-programmed backing track we’re informed is just like Coolio’s ‘Gangster’s Paradise’), shakers and tamborines, strange drumsticks with LEDs embedded into them and a metronome, all being looped, along with the vocals, in a manner that a lesser artist would simply reproduce using a laptop and a pre-recorded backing track. We’re not in the presence of a lesser artist though, we’re watching ‘Gryrru Grryu Grryu’ and ‘Cycle of Violence’ being created from scratch, in front of our eyes. It is, for want of a less gushing word, genius. Having charmed us with ‘Court of King Arthur’, we’re treated to the bridge again quickly afterward when an audience member returns from the toilet and shouts that he’d missed it (and at the end, yells ‘thank you!’, in perhaps the world’s politest (and therefore rubbish) heckle). Final track of the set and latest single ‘Shark Ridden Waters’ is accompanied by a backing track, again looped, but this time from a sample of a vinyl record on that little turntable.

No phoney encore indeed, after a few minutes exit to emphatic applause, Rhys returns to the stage to finally play the previously attempted new track ‘If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)’, before being joined on stage again by Sweet Baboo and Lisa Jen, along with support act H Hawkline for a cover of Kevin Ayres’ ‘Religious Experience’. It’s an appropriate choice, with it’s refrain ‘singing a song in the morning / Singing it again at night / I don’t even know what I’m singing about/ But it makes me feel I feel alright’. Because as we filter out into the bitterly cold night, we all feel we feel pretty damn alright, too.

Read More

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Stay Updated!

Get the best of DIY to your inbox each week.

Latest Issue

April 2024

With Bob Vylan, St Vincent, girl in red, Lizzy McAlpine and more.

Read Now Buy Now Subscribe to DIY