Tuesday 20 February 2024

Gruff Rhys at Saint Lukes

Photo by Alan Clarke

Spring was in the air in Glasgow yesterday, Monday 19th February. The day felt lighter and brighter, perhaps it was just a co-incidence that Gruff Rhys was in town, but then again, I imagine that he brings a warm glow wherever he goes.

Gruff was playing Saint Luke's to promote Sadness Sets Me Free, the 25th album of his remarkable career, taking in Super Furry Animals, collaborations, side projects and his solo material. There is no sign, or danger, that Rhys is going to slow down. 

The sold out Saint Luke's basked in Gruff's warm glow, marvelling at his natural creative energy, inventive way with lyrics, ideas, stories and melodies coupled with his beautiful voice. 

Backed by a crack 4-piece; drums (nicely positioned side on - the drummer was sensational), double bass/bass, keyboards/electric piano and synth/mellotron, Gruff switched between a couple of acoustics and an electric guitar, dressed in a GR logistics lab coat. 

Although we're only in February, I can safely say that Sadness Sets Me Free will be one of my albums of the year. Recorded in only 3-days in a studio on the outskirts of Paris, the timescale (almost 'forced' upon Gruff when his friend let him know he had time available) ensures that there is a lovely warm feel throughout. 

Rhys is aided by his crack band of Osian Gwynedd (piano), V Williams (double bass) and Kilph Sturrock (drums). Kate Stables from This Is The Kit added backing vocals and the wonderful strings and orchestration was added back in Wales. BOOM!

Photo by Alan Clarke

Opening with album closer I'll Keep Singing, title track Sadness Sets Me Free and latest single Bad Friend, highlighted the confidence and belief that Rhys has in his new songs. He even stopped and started Bad Friend, highlighting the way he just changes how he plays the same chords for different sections.

When Gruff sings in his native Welsh it only highlights his way with melodies and knack for a pop hook. Pang! was delightful, everyone was smiling - onstage and in the crowd.

I Tendered My Resignation is Gruff singing about his regret of cutting off a relationship too early, seemingly just because he was too young. I love how unique Gruff's songwriting is. Rhys really just lets his mind and imagination wander, resulting in dreamy psychedelic lyrics and melodies. His tight rhythm section allowed the rest of the band to flourish and I got lost in some of Gruff's guitar riffs.

Sometimes doing the right thing

Is the opposite of doing the right thing

Sometimes it's the wrong thing

And doing the right thing isn't doing the right thing

Earlier on I spoke of Gruff having a warm glow and in his new song They Sold My Home To Build A Skyscraper he sings keep on glowing in the dark in a refrain at the end. Good advice. This is one of my favourites on the album, the opening line (the title) is just so off the cuff, slightly bizarre, beautifully unique ... and everything just flows from there. I particularly love Gruff's voice and melody on this as he comments on how everything is being built on, or modernised - including the fact that there is now a luxury development on the site of the dancefloor where he met a love.

They're building malls up to the moon

But even space ran out of room

Towards the end, Gruff's drummer paused proceedings to come to centre stage to announce that Gruff would shred all the emotional worries that people wrote down and put in a box at the merch stand before the show. It was typically offbeat humour with a warm edge (glow).

Photo by Lorna Templeton

Gruff's Babelsberg album is a big favourite of mine, so I was delighted that he played Negative Vibes towards the end of the show (setlist below - my friend Lorna got). There was no time for an encore, Gruff and co kept playing, with Rhys having time to hold up signs for applause, tax the rich, sadness sets me free and more.

What a brilliant night. Rhys is a wonderful singer, songwriter and performer and his band are magnificent. I hope they will be back in Glasgow again before the end of the year.

Photo by Lorna Templeton

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