While there are some worldly mysteries that are just too complex for human comprehension, at this stage in the century you wouldn’t have thought techno would be up there with biodiversity and the space-time continuum. Well-versed in quantum physics they may be, but tonight there’s a huge collective question mark pulsating over the audience’s heads.
One minute, [a]Super Furry Animals[/a] are rampaging through ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ like they have a fresh crop of heads for Traitors’ Gate, a proper band with faces and arms and singing; the next, they’ve vanished into ten minutes of strobes and smoke and the kind of weapons system techno-thud that Marconi dreamt of patenting. The intent is clear: dispensation to go wild. The reaction, though, is unsure: everyone faces the stage, looking, waiting. You can just imagine the band, shaking their shaggy heads in dismay. Go on. Enjoy yourselves.
Abandon doesn’t always come easy, though, and that makes SFA‘s libertarian impulses all the more treasurable. Their little surprise should come as no surprise at all; after all, they’re just a guitar band like air is just quite nice to have around. Nothing much may have changed in their universe since ‘Radiator’ – except, given the rum-punch-drunk romp through ‘Northern Lites’, a fondness for calypso – yet still they have ideas like most people have biscuits. Not only is there a ridiculously variegated abundance of old stuff tonight – a raw, filterless ‘Smokin’‘, the swingers’ cabaret of ‘Play It Cool’, ‘Demons’ hitting that spinal chord – the new songs are high and hopeful. Gruff, in between staring at the lights like a man only vaguely aware of the concept of electricity, introduces them, but as he sounds like a glockenspiel muffled inside a ‘cello, it’s best to, yes, let the music do the talking. Luckily, it shouts loud and clear; the Stooges fervour of ‘Night Vision’ wants to be your dog in a rather sweet, Animal Hospital kind of way; the bucolic ‘Turning Tide’ sounds like ‘Road Rage’ in a place where there’s no traffic, just cattle; but best is the pristine ‘Some Things Come From Nothing’ (heartbreakingly, “Nothing seems to come from something”). Imagine if the great DJ battle was between Plaid and Labradford, and laugh. A new direction, but lovely all the same.
And that’s the vital thing, for SFA are sensualists, working with noise in luxuriant ease, reaching for sounds from their collective daydreams and stuffing them into songs. They want you to feel the bass play pinball with your vertebrae. They dress their horn section in policemen’s uniforms simply because it amuses them. They fill the stage with flickering televisions not through postmodern ennui, but because they float pleasingly in the sky. While other bands attempt seismic reinvention, SFA potter around their magic garden, quite happy to let gentle shifts roll them into new pastures. Three albums in, people will be making plans for them, trying to get them to settle down, buckle under. They will smile sleepily, roll over, and wait for those calypso beats to kick in. Whatever. The international language of dreaming has an infinite vocabulary.