Super Furries set the world to rights

By BBC News Online’s Robert Andrews

Gruff Rhys is a man of few words, preferring instead to let the Super Furry Animals’ music do the talking.

This is good. The band, which strides effortlessly both electronic and guitar camps, and releases multimedia extravaganzas to little popular aplomb, already has presence enough to fill the conversational void.

From the moment of the Furry ones’ boxing match-like ascendance to the Cardiff International Arena stage, it is clear the SFA are on a trademark mission to impress.

Relayed to one of 17 video screens littered overhead and accompanied by unfolding, horrifying cartoon images and erotica, their entrance is met with a warm welcome from the CIA home crowd.

Having missed out on a Mercury Music Prize in September, the Furries hit the road with their Rings Around The World album material – this homecoming their last UK date before heading for Japan.

Walk the talk

The new songs are soon dropped in with little disguise.

The album’s title track is left to its own glorious devices – a lyrical hangover from telecom-themed album Guerrilla, but one which keeps its promise to “vaporise your soul.”

Deceptively melodic Receptacle For The Respectable is joined on stage by a man in a John Lennon mask and Rhys spitting celery – echoes of Paul McCartney’s strange instrumental contribution to the album.

What the crowd misses, however, is Gruff Rhys’s banter.

A man of his vision who, as fellow Furry Dafydd Ieuan testifies, invents his own wonderful clichés at the drop of a hat, could work his audience easily.

But his non-musical expression is limited to punctuating songs with introductions, then putting every sinew into his art.

Alas, the lanky one, who has rock’s softest spoken voice, is too unassuming, too humble – and he should stay that way.

And then the show comes alive, taking the most dramatic, topical turn.

Sonically ironic, It’s Not The End Of The World? (Rhys emphasises the question mark) is joined on the video screens by repeated images of nuclear bombs and soldiers’ preparations for war.

In light of current world events, it is disturbing, yet these delightfully massive test explosions, and the singer’s wah-wahs and guitar twangs, lift the mood as he adds: “At least, it’s not the end of the world.”

International affairs

“This is a song about world leaders,” says Rhys of Presidential Suite, “who are egotistical and kill people and children.”

The song’s own video – a star-spangled Air Force One flies effortlessly through world capital skylines then encounters dramatic turbulence – focuses attention further on the subject at hand.

Furthermore, Run! Christian, Run! is far from the “happy little tune” of his claim – with quotes from psalms dropped into video flames, it is chilling.

The night is cheered and the crowd moved to jolly, exotic Northern Lites, and a host of other favourites.

Night Vision sees Rhys mount an out-of-this-world lectern to deliver his lyrics through an interstellar digital effect – he is ready to take off at any moment.

Might, vision

But the encore is a complete anomaly as four superhero-suited characters return to a techno track and begin wrestling furiously on stage in their multi-coloured costumes.

For a moment, it could have been the Furries themselves, but the WWF-quality performance gave it away.

Challenged in a fashion we should have come to know, love and expect from SFA, the crowd left thoroughly confused, delightfully happy and diplomatically aware.

The Super Furry Animals saw the future here tonight.

It may be bleak, but their’s is bright.

Super Furry Animals played on 12 October at Cardiff International Arena