Gruff Rhys returned to Schubas for the second time last night having previously played the venue in 2007. This time his backing band (and opener) was the incomparable surf rock quartet and fellow Welsh artists Y Niwl.
I found last night’s set to be far more rewarding than Rhys’ last time in Chicago as a solo act. This improvement has much to do with the strength of the most recent addition to his catalog, Hotel Shampoo.
The opening song of the night was “Rubble Rubble,” the final track on Hotel Shampoo which Rhys’ kidded that most people (even those who own the album) probably hadn’t reached yet. He dedicated it to Phil Collins, and dubbed him, the first solo act to break up with himself. Other dedications were made to archeologists and his van driver who introduced Rhys to the wonder of Zinger cakes. This witty banter and a few select props gave a light vibe to the undertakings, but Rhys undoubtedly still has the tunes and singular voice that has kept him a viable artist since the mid 1990s.
So no Gruff does not play Super Furry Animals songs in his sets, but I’ll be darned if I wasn’t bowled over and surprised at how well he pulled off the Welsh language songs from his solo debut Yr Atal Genhedlaeth. “Pwdin Ŵy 1” and the beautiful “Pwdin Ŵy 2” sounded terrific, as did “Ni Yw Y Byd.” However it wasn’t solely a quiet affair, Gruff and the Y Niwl boys got loud on “In A House With No Mirrors” from The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness record.
Having followed SFA since Fuzzy Logic and watched the arc of their career in the U.S. (peaking in buzzyworthiness on Rings Around The World) it somewhat shocks, but also thrills me that such a talented artist travels largely below the radar.
Thursday night’s set was a hefty 18 song, 1 hour and 40 minute affair. Rhys’ encore was the extended and slightly tedious “Skylon!” All and all a terrific performance and hopefully not the only time Y Niwl makes it to Chicago because their instrumental songs played live carry even more spunk than on record. Fun fact, Y Niwl translates in English as The Fog, something that they must’ve left in their wake as I look out my window now.
Gruff Rhys 6/9/11 Setlist
1. Rubble Rubble
2. Gwn Mi Wn
4. The Court Of King Arthur
5. In A House With No Mirrors
6. Pwdin Ŵy 1
7. Pwdin Ŵy 2
8. Sophie Softly
9. If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)
10. Sensations In The Dark
11. Vitamin K
12. Honey All Over
13. Lonesome Words
14. Ni Yw Y Byd
15. Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru
16. Cycle Of Violence
17. Shark Ridden Waters
Approximate run time = 1 hr. 40 min.