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LIVE: Gruff Rhys presents American Interior - Manchester Academy 2

Gruff Rhys is a man who shot to stardom in the 1990s, as frontman of Super Furry Animals – a band that are among the finest exponents of psychedelic rock from the last few decades.

However, perhaps unfairly they were lumped by some members of the music press as being just another cog in the Brit-pop machine. We certainly don’t subscribe to this view, but if you ever needed further evidence of Rhys’ versatile artistry, his solo career and in particular the stunning show we caught last night are all you really need.

For those who are unfortunate enough to not have delved into last year’s American Interior album, it is a project that has proved to intriguing and undeniably infectious in equal measure.

It’s a concept album based on the life of John Evans (pronounced by Rhys in a far more quintessentially Welsh vernacular than than the written word can do justice).

Born in the  Caernarfon region of West Cymru, he explores the US in the hope of unearthing more from the theory that Price Madoc, a 12th Century explorer, who had settled in the Gulf of Mexico and created a tribe of Welsh Indians. For readers who have yet to buy into this record, it might sound a bit overbearing, but take it from us that immersing yourself in it makes the live show electrifying.

There’s an understated but thoroughly enjoyable support set from Gwenno, a former member of The Pipettes who now does something that sounds a little bit like Grimes if she had spent her formative days in the Valleys. Pitch perfect vocals and a healthy dose of electronica are an ideal way to kick things off.

But what follows from Rhys is a full scale extravaganza. It’s as much a lecture in historical theory as it is a musical performance, but you should be in no way mislead into thinking there aren’t plenty of laughs along the way.

There are cactus stage props, transporting the audience to the Gulf, and a scale puppet figure of Evans, which almost takes centre stage ahead of the frontman at times.

It a heady mix of encapsulating psychedelia, comedy (Rhys’ dry wit is an absolute pleasure throughout) and insightful chat. It’s fair to say that this audience are not bouncing from the walls like others might have done to ‘Something 4 The Weekend’ back in the day, but this is an all together separate experience – something that goes some way to demonstrating just how many strings there are to his bow.

It’s hard to pick out a highlight, as the whole show runs as a hugely engaging narrative that really is more about the sum of its parts – an accolade that can very rarely be bestowed on anyone who has enjoyed the success that Rhys has with the Super Furrys.

Judged on their aural merit alone, ‘Lost Tribes’ sticks out as a beautiful piece of balladry and ‘100 Unread Messages’ is a tow-tapping hoedown-worthy bit of American rockabilly.

Coming in at over two hours, the set is one that you really do have to give your all, but if you’ve got the resolve it’s more than worth it. Rhys brings the tour to a close at Glasgow Art School on Thursday. The album will probably never be played in this truly encapsulating format again after that. Need we say more? Make it happen.

Patrick Davies
(Featured image by Kirsten McTernan)