What's this? SUPER FURRY ANIMALS turning into the best live band in the land? Paul Moody grins from the back row.
Nottingham Rock City
It’s a 21st-Century noise these Super Furries make, and no mistake. If there’s any blueprint for what pop’s gonna look, feel and sound like when we finally escape the last gasps of miserablism and topple over into the unknown pleasures of the ’00s, then surely they’ve at least seen the first draft (along with Air, the Lo-Fi’s, ADF, The Dandy Warhols, anyone with a sense of musical mischief). Huw stands stage left looking like he’s just come from a prolonged fishing trip and makes his guitar sound like everything from glam rock to the noise of buildings exploding. When he’s sounding particularly inspired, a huge inflatable bulb above his head lights up, revealing a miniature Spanish galleon inside it.
Guto holds centre stage by walloping us in the midriff with an endless barrage of bass whilst to his left Dafydd, lost in the lights, plays safe and belts seven bells from his drumkit at any given opportunity. Cian, meanwhile, perched high above the others in what looks like his own personal keyboard repair shop, alternates between delivering achingly beautiful piano tinkles and sending electronic calling sounds to outer space. Which only leaves Gruff, elegantly dishevelled in a hooped, blue T-shirt, strumming away at his knackered acoustic with his giant’s hands and singing a string of melodies to make the angels cry.
The key to all this, if any, is the Furries’ knack of remaining irreverent to their own endeavours at all times. There’s no sign of the Tap-like pyrotechnic frenzy we were promised tonight (other than Huw’s light bulb and the occasional puff of onstage smoke we’re in a ‘Stonehenge’-free zone) but whenever there’s an opportunity to take the most beautiful of tunes and mangle it through enough radio static to cause the national grid problems, they do so with glee. ‘Placid Casual’ – arguably one of their loveliest tracks to date – gets the white noise treatment courtesy of Gruff thrashing away at an upended electric guitar provided for just such messy moments, whilst the roll-call of hits that follow progress into an increasingly frazzled state. ‘International Language Of Screaming’ and ‘Play It Cool’ stumble along wildly on a wave of fuzz before finally finding their footing; ‘She’s Got Spies’ – introduced bizarrely by Gruff as, “a little tune about a cartoon chicken” – rattles by uncontrollably and you get the feeling that the whole show is, literally, about to bolt for the exit, never to be seen again.
Until, that is, ‘Demons’ and a remarkably restrained (in the circumstances) ‘If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You’. Gruff, as is his wont, still plays his guitar the wrong way around and upside down, but on these two songs, cast as they are in the midst of such a greatest hits thrasherama, it actually sounds like it’s back to front, with all the added confusion and vulnerability which that implies. Equally, no sooner have they seen off a brisk ‘Ice Hockey Hair’ – single of the summer, if there’s any justice – and a strangely underpowered ‘Smokin” (Gruff claps along furiously throughout; the crowd stare back at him blankly) than the mood reverts again. “That song’s gonna be big, but it’s not clever,” mumbles Gruff, “but this one’s big and clever…” After which they deliver a final ‘Mountain People’. “Vanity strangles me, pulls me, shakes me down”, intones Gruff, bathed in a deep-green light, blissfully unaware, it seems, of the fact that in May ’98 the Super Furries feel like the brightest stars in the pop universe. The future’s theirs, they just don’t know about it yet.