This past weekend was supposed to be Super. All the endless anticipatory chatter was about exactly how Super things were going to be: Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Peyton Manning—the holy trinity and their minions all gathered together under the umbrella of a multi-billion dollar monopoly whose workers are literally destroying their bodies and minds so we as a country can pop a gigantic violence-boner—what a Super Sunday we had to look forward to!
I watched the game on Sunday. As far as games went, it wasn’t especially Super. A defensive struggle with a lot of punting. Yawn, shrug, and pass the sour-cream-and-onion dip. Even the commercials, which are supposed to pick up any Super-slack the game spools loose, largely failed to engage (although, to be fair the Christopher Walken sock bit was great, but then, you could have Christopher Walken stump for a steaming stew of monkey diarrhea and I’d at least consider it).
Despite the Stupor of the promised Super my weekend wasn’t lacking in entertainment, for I was able to go listen to one of my favorite bands of the past twenty years: The Super Furry Animals, who killed it at the Neptune on Saturday night.
If you don’t know who the hell these guys are, dear readers, don’t feel bad: most of us don’t know who the hell these guys are. There are several reasons for this. First, part of the problem is that the band is Welsh, Wales being, if you’re not already familiar with it, a tiny rabbit land with its own crazy language located somewhere in or around England (Geologists are still working out the details). Another factor is that they’ve largely spent the past 30-years making experimental art music, which typically doesn’t lend itself to the radio (although to my ears a large percentage of their music is pretty poppy and very radio-friendly). They had some successes in the UK charts in the late 90’s and early 00’s, but they never made a big splash on this side of the pond, and largely they have remained unknown to American audiences.
I first came across the Super Furries in 2001, when I went into a now-defunct record store on the north end of Broadway and bought their CD, Rings Around the World. I listened to it once, thought to myself, What the hell is this?, and after a second spin I was hooked. I’ve been playing them steadily ever since.
I saw SFA back in 2002 at the Showbox downtown. Not only were they awesome live—they combine the kooky stage theatricals of The Flaming Lips with a harder drive, tighter sound, and more experimental musicality—but they were also one of the first bands I ever saw who had a fully integrated video set: throughout the concert a screen behind the band projected a series of videos and cartoons that were perfectly aligned to the rhythms and beats of the songs they were playing. It was cool.
SFA have been on hiatus for the past five or six years. Each member has been pursuing solo projects, the most notable being—to me—Gruff Rhys’s American Interior, a really interesting exploration of history and song-writing that’s totally worth checking out. And yes—Gruff Rhys really is the lead singer’s name; we’ll come back to that. The band were in Seattle Saturday to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of their album, Mwang; more on that below.
My four favorite things about SFA: First, and obviously, their music: it’s whacky and wild and goes wherever it needs to go. It rocks hard, it incorporates a lot of electronic dance beats, it’s very melodic, the lyrics are clever and thoughtful, and the fellas can sing and harmonize. Whenever I listen to these guys I think of an amalgam of late 60’s Beatles and Beach Boys, a fused team of musicians consuming every drug they could ingest and fully backed by the famous LA studio studs, the Wrecking Crew.
I find a lot of overlap between psychedelia and spirituality, and both are prominent components of SFA’s music. I referenced The Flaming Lips above, but where The Lips are content to float off into the ether SFA keep their feet more firmly planted on the ground. It’s possible this is due to their being Welsh—mining people with an untraceably arcane language—or maybe they just find choruses of Love Love Love to be a little thin, but if I wanted to compare them to another band who explores similar veins I’d probably argue that they overlap a lot with Spiritualized, another humdinger of a UK space-rock outfit.
Second, SFA’s stage show: when I saw them this weekend they came out in white spaceman outfits and Gruff sang the second song through a motorcycle helmet, a la Daft Punk. Randomly throughout the show they’d hold up large placards that read, Applause! For their closing song, they donned Yeti costumes and crossed their raised guitars like axes held aloft by lumberjack-rock-star-gods having a laugh at the very notion of taking things seriously. This show was also fully integrated with videos, all of which were odd and twisted but somehow oddly fit the twisted things that were happening onstage.
My third and fourth favorite things overlap: As I mentioned these fellas are Welsh, which means they’ve got really thick, oddly indecipherable accents: the between-song banter left the entire audience leaning forward cupping their ears asking one another, Huh? What’d he say? In 2000, just as they were finally gaining some popularity on the British charts, they put out a Welsh language album titled Mwang, the fifteen year anniversary of which was the reason for this recent US tour. (It’s a good indication of how uninterested in commercial success they were to put out an album in a language spoken by only a few hundred thousand people. Still, like most of Sigur Ros’s work Mwang is a great listen even if you don’t have a clue what they’re singing about.)
The last point about their being Welsh—their names, which are, honest-to-god, as follows: Gruff Rhys, Huw Buford, Guto Pryce, Cian Ciaran, Dayfdd Ieuan. I don’t know which name, as a name, is my favorite; I do know that there are five vowels in the English language and the last guy’s name has four of them in a row!
The show on Saturday night was really Super, and that’s not just me beating the dead horse of this word play. Even though it was all old material the guys rocked it hard, they were a ton of fun, the video production was rad and overall they simply sounded amazing. My understanding is that this is a one-off tour to celebrate Mwang; my hope is that we’ll see more work from them as a unit in the coming year.
As an added bonus, a friend and I were having Thai food on the Ave before the show when in walked—you guessed it, The Super Furry Animals. I don’t normally pester celebrities when I see them in public: generally I figure so-and-so just wants to buy some groceries or get a coffee and be let alone. However, given that the members of SFA have the sort of celebrity that nobody was ever going to recognize, I went over and said Hello, Thank you, glad to see you’re back in town, keep it up.
They nodded and through their thick Welsh accents mumbled something that sounded like Thank you. We smiled at each other and that was enough for us all.