Gruff Rhys: Resist Phony Encores
Haunting, disarming, his voice trembling then strong and soothing. Gruff Rhys played and talked for an hour, songs sometimes in Welsh, sometimes English, occasionally mixing recorded sounds, adding voice over voice or gentle squeaking bird calls from a tiny machine. This performance was a rare and intimate pleasure with one of rock and roll's most interesting and enduring talents.
I've known about Gruff Rhys for decades, since the early 1990s and his Welsh language rock band Ffa Coffi Pawb (a Welsh play on words, meaning either Coffee Beans for Everyone, or Fuck off to Everyone). He talked about the band here, and briefly his experiences in Wales and in Bangor Normal College where the Beatles once met the Maharishi, and whose vibrations he still felt there decades after.
I never appreciated Ffa Coffi Pawb at the time, or his later more commercial venture Super Furry Animals; I was too into heavy metal – arguably the opposite of Gruff Rhys's trippy, stoner persona. Now, I'm way different, more relaxed and his acoustic set and meditation on crowds is absolutely my thing, especially in this dark, midnight setting. Rhys talked of his interest in holding up different messages to audiences: Applause – Louder – Ape-shit, and Tax The Rich, the latter apparently not going down so well in one particular concert in a prosperous London area.
I wish he'd recorded this live, acoustic set. Some of the songs that struck were Iolo and Colonize the Moon, the latter in 'tribute' to the Brexit experience: Colonize the Moon, Colonize the Moon, With All Those Bad Ideas . . . With All the Warring Factions, They'll Fight It Out, They'll Fight It Out, They'll Fight It Out Until Extinction . . .
The one-hour show ended at midnight, Rhys having left the stage without any time for encores, phony or otherwise.I walked home, along a street-lit cobbled lane while Sunday evening revelers stood outside bars on either side to me, enjoying the dying embers of the weekend. It was then I was stopped by a man from France whose name will remain unspoken. He asked me about places to drink, and soon noticed my transgender identity and asked about me. I told him I was a serious student and that I never went to bars. He asked if I never missed intimacy, or sex, and I said 'yes, sometimes, but not enough to let it bother me.' It aroused me to speak with him in this way, my body responding in ways that felt unfamiliar, or nostalgic. I wanted these bodily responses of mine to stop. So I gave him a suggestion for some places he could go to for a final evening drink, then I blew him a kiss and continued on my midnight journey home, looking for the moon of Gruff Rhys's song, but failing to see it behind the thick night time clouds.