Colorado songwriter mixes obscenity and emotional heft with huge pop melodies
National Theatre Of Wales Warehouse, Cardiff, Thursday May 2
1. AN ITALIAN COMMUNIST WELCOMES US
Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, whose life provides the concept for Neon Neon’s second LP, joined the Italian Communist Party during WWII. Accordingly, an Italian communist atop a bus instructs fans to enter the industrial warehouse venue. It’s dark. There are a lot of security guards in brown coats, and nowhere a Welsh-American synth-rock band might perform. Until a partition is removed, revealing the other half of the venue, and Gruff Rhys and Bryan ‘Boom Bip’ Hollon clacking typewriters to the strains of ‘Praxis Makes Perfect’’s title track.
2. GRUFF RHYS DRIVES A CHERRY PICKER
The buoyant, semi-punky ‘Mid Century Modern Nightmare’ is where the absurdism takes hold. Cast members climb out of 20ft-high filing cabinets. An outsized Anglepoise lamp on wheels rumbles onto the floor, splitting the standing crowd in two. Gruff drives a cherry-picker through the rabble, singing the ’80s synth-pop smash ‘Dr Zhivago’. Observant Gruff-heads may recognise the placards he brandishes (“APE SHIT”, “TAX THE RICH”) from his previous live outings.
3. FIDEL CASTRO IS MOCKED
‘Hoops With Fidel’, the album’s most Super Furries-ish turn, is preceded by a preaching of the Cuban credo by a false-bearded comedy Castro. Similarly, gameshow-style interlude ‘Che’s Guide To Revolution’ is implicitly scornful of Guevara’s blood-soaked iconoclasm. Onstage, Gruff cracks a smile when El Che barks at the Italian: “Are you a publisher or are you a revolutionary?”
4. FANS VOTE TO ABOLISH THE MONARCHY
On entering, we are asked to vote on the abolition of the monarchy. As Feltrinelli, killed by his own explosives, is carried from the building by a funeral procession, the Italian communist returns to announce that roughly two-thirds voted YES, before concluding: “I now declare this place the Republic Of Neon Neon!” This entitles us to one solitary oldie: ‘I Lust U’, a highlight of 2008’s ‘Stainless Style’.
5. THE ACTING IS RUBBISH BUT BRILLIANT
The acting, in general, is somewhere between comedic and hammy; dance moves, when they occur, are endearingly stiff-limbed. Observed separately, this isn’t especially revolutionary in a musical or theatrical sense. But weaved together over 80 minutes, it’s an ambitious triumph.
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