By Hollister Dixon // Photos By Yousef Hatlani
If you’re reading this, and you’ve never dived into the work of Super Furry Animals, arguably* the best band to ever come from Cardiff, Wales, you’re part of the problem.
Okay, you aren’t actually part of the problem. In all seriousness, though, Super Furry Animals are probably the best Welsh band to never, ever manage to find a footing in the US. The reasons they’ve never grabbed hold of the US are a mystery, though I have my theories – the thickness of Gruff Rhys’ accent, the fact that one of their best releases (Mwng) is completely in Welsh, the fact that they have names like Dafydd Ieuan and Huw Bunford – but from a sonic perspective this is a band that deserves to be much, much bigger.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the relationship between show going turnout and the performance of a band. Think back to the best shows you’ve ever seen. How packed were they? How was the crowd – was it engaged and ecstatic? Did it fill up quick, or was it a steady trickle? The Crystal Ballroom is a 1500 person capacity room, and by the time Super Furry Animals took the stage, the room was roughly 1/4 full. Those there were engaged, but there was a not-surprising disparity between the amount of people on the All Ages side of the room and the 21+ side of the room.
Talking about a performance like this is difficult, because I firmly believe the show I got would have been more powerful if the turnout had been better. This leads to a lot of troubling questions about the responsibilities of a touring band – the responsibility to play to the best of your abilities no matter the turnout – but those questions often ignore that the band onstage is a band of human beings with emotions that sometimes cannot be checked at the stage entrance if those emotions are brought on by what they see when they walk onto that stage. I’m a forgiving person, and while I am unbelievably bummed that the performance we got was the kind you’d expect from a band barely selling tickets 20+ years into their career, I can’t help but want to ignore those pangs of disappointment.
The good news is, as a first Super Furries performance, this was a very lovely one. Getting to see songs like “Slow Life” (a personal favorite, played beautifully with Gruff Rhys donning an oversized Red Power Ranger helmet partway through), “Juxtapozed With U” (a song Rhys messed up right off the bat, but just rolled with), and “(Drawing) Rings Around the World” was a lovely way to spend an evening. The band are more or less playing the same set every night on this tour, and while that leaves less room for surprises, the set that they’re playing is stacked with fan favorites (“Receptacle For the Respectable” was just splendid, as was “Hello Sunshine”), so the drawback of a static set is a minor trifle.
The biggest highlight of the evening, for me, was just getting to watch these men be strange onstage. I’ve spent years seeing videos and photos of their performances, and there’s a great joy to seeing a bunch of men in white spaceman jumpsuits blast through “Hometown Unicorn”, or complete most of “The Man Don’t Give A Fuck” before leaving just long enough to change into Chewbacca-esque costumes for the end of the song.
It’s ultimately a great shame that Gruff & Co. seemed so exhausted, or brought down by such low turnout. While the band didn’t feel like they were putting their all into it, I walked away very happy with the show I did get. I’m sure it’s going to be awhile before Super Furry Animals return to Portland – it had already been 7 years since the last show, and this one may have soured them for our city (though I really hope it didn’t!), but whenever they decide to come back, I’ll gleefully turn out and belt out their songs with all of the other believers in the city that know just how incredible this band is.
Now, kindly go pick up Radiator or at very least Songbook Vol. 1: The Singles. Thank me later.
*Everyone who knows me knows I swear an undying allegiance to fellow Cardiffians Los Campesinos!, and I would actually probably pick Romance is Boring or Rings Around the World if I could only save a single Welsh record.