Gruff Rhys review – renewed appreciation for two Welsh trailblazers

ABC, Glasgow
The former Super Furry Animals frontman performs yet another distinct incarnation of the John Evans story with focus and fun

Playing Scotland in the run-up to the independence referendum means having to cope with political heckles. "John Evans says vote yes!" bellows one fan midway through this gig, interrupting Gruff Rhys mid-strum and rather presumptively speaking for the historical subject of his fourth solo album, American Interior. "I can only speculate," replies Rhys mildly. "But I think he would have." If the picaresque story of Evans, an idealistic Welshman who sailed to the US in 1792 in search of a fabled tribe of Welsh-speaking Indians, has long been underreported, former Super Furry Animals frontman Rhys has masterminded a carpet-bombing corrective.

American Interior already exists as a lushly orchestrated record, book, documentary and even an app. The live experience feels like another distinct incarnation, with Rhys re-creating songs from the album while narrating a haphazard visual presentation. It's nominally a solo performance, but the spirit of Evans looms large. Some of the explorer's more fanciful descriptions of life in the uncharted regions of the US are repurposed as lyrics for Liberty (Is Where We'll Be) and he's also embodied on-stage by an appealing puppet in a tricorn hat. This fuzzy avatar also features heavily in the slideshow, like Uncle Travelling Matt from Fraggle Rock.

If Evans was a classic roving hero in the Odysseus mould, Rhys seems more like MacGyver, jury-rigging a metronome and vocal-looping black boxes, a turntable and occasionally a mouth organ to bolster his acoustic guitar. He tackles songs he's never played live before, like the Avalanches-reminiscent Allweddellau Allweddol and the overall effect is impressive and expansive. The questing narrative is also flexible enough for Rhys to fold in some of his older songs, including The Court of King Arthur and If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme), without losing any focus or fun. You come away with a renewed appreciation for not one but two Welsh trailblazers.

• 10 September. Box office: 0161-907 5555. Venue: RNCM, Manchester. Then touring.

Contributor

Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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