The Wales Millennium Centre was sold out for the Super Furry Animals songwriter Gruff Rhys’ most ambitious solo project to date, performing a selection of his work alongside a band plus 72-piece orchestra, as part of Festival of Voice and set in a grand theatre in the Wales Millennium Centre. It was difficult to know what to expect with such high stakes, ambitious setting and with such a vast backing, this was a long way from the Super Furry Animals band sets or the shambolic genius of his previous solo ventures, and I had gone without hearing Gruff’s brand new album Babelsberg, but it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Gruff started the night with the “encore” set of old favourites, played only with the band, including the beautiful melancholy of ‘Cryndod Yn Dy Lais’ and the classic ‘Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru’, plus a rousing version of ‘American Interior’.
A brief interval followed as they assembled the huge orchestra on stage for the main set featuring his new album Babelsberg in its entirety, which is introduced by an enchanting orchestral piece, it vividly demonstrated the superb acoustics of the Donald Gordon Theatre, with Gruff and his band made up of Stephen Black (Sweet Baboo), Kliph Scurlock, Osian Gwynedd, Lisa Jên and Mirain Haf, among others, returning to stage to play side one of the album. Gruff is now sporting a wing mirror on his microphone stand to keep an eye on conductor and composer Stephen McNeff stood behind him. It was a visual overload with psychedelic, sometimes blinding blue and yellow lights, and the vast orchestra on stage, but they complimented the melodic songs well, although they were at times a little lost behind Kliph Scurlock’s intense drumming.
Highlights of the evening’s set were plentiful from ‘Negative Vibes’, with its earworm chorus, which had previously appeared in Gruff’s Candylion theatrical shows, to the epic sound of ‘Architecture of Amnesia’ and tragicomic ‘Selfies in the Sunset’. The show closed with the brilliant ‘Harvest the Pixels’, a song left off the album, which concluded this truly colossal concert, which brought Gruff’s live shows onto another level. A special set that placed Gruff Rhys, one of Wales’s most inventive voices on a rarified platform and an evening none of this audience will forget.
Images by Nico Burgui