Gruff Rhys, Art School, Glasgow. Feb 19th 2015. Live gig review
Gruff Rhys brought his American Interior show back to Glasgow last night, in its fully polished, multi-media version. Last year I enjoyed reading his book which told the story of Rhys following in the footsteps of 18th century Welsh adventurer John Evans. Proving that truth can be weirder than fiction, we hear the story of how a misguided, one man expedition to track down a long lost tribe of Welsh speaking native Americans led Evans on an extraordinary adventure. He goes from hunting bison to joining the Spanish, languishing in prisons, annexing North Dakota from the British to mapping rivers unexplored by Europeans through the American interior. In the book Rhys takes a felt mannequin version of John Evans with him as he tries to recreate his route, playing gigs and writing songs along the way. The book is a great read, a "psychadelic travelogue" written with Rhys's usual droll humour. This has spawned an album, a book, an app and now a live tour.
The live show starts with a 10 minute clip from a 1970s documentary in which a strident, stalky Welsh historian in cyan flares tells us about the myth of Prince Madoc who allegedly sailed to America in 1170, founding tribes of Welsh-speaking descendants. Rhys and his band then talk and sing us through the story of John Evans who sought out these tribes in the 1790s. Star attraction onstage amongst the paper mache cacti was the John Evans mannequin himself. With Rhys controlling his powerpoint presentation of photos from his travels we went with John Evans from London to Baltimore, St Louis and up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers towards Canada, before going back to New Orleans.
From the vigourous drumming of the song "Iolo" (for Iolo Morganwg who came up with the notion of Evans's expedition) to the power ballad "Walk Into The Wilderness" and "Allweddellau Allweddol", sung in Welsh above the chanting of children, the music swings from one style to another. Rhys's magpie like collecting of details on his trip obviously fed his imagination on the songwriting front too.
We finish Evan's story with the stand out track on the album "100 Unread Messages" and it has been fun, if slightly bonkers, to accompany Gruff Rhys on his road trip. Excellent, inventive and imaginative stuff.