Published Feb 05, 2016This psychedelic double-bill descended upon Vancouver care of the organizers behind Levitation, a festival at which openers Dead Meadow had performed in 2015. The throwback psych rock trio from Washington, DC came on smooth, their sluggish tempos effectively lulling the crowd into a purple haze. Granted, the vocals of frontman Jason Simon, delayed beyond coherency, did not add much to their pot-soaked textures, but his guitar work, alongside bassist Steve Kille and drummer Mark Laughlin, maintained the consistently deep pulse one would expect from a veteran ensemble that once recorded a Peel Session, leaving no wonder as to why Laughlin had to stretch and limber up so much early on in their set. They kept their doped-up rhythms tightly hypnotic throughout their hour onstage.
Hailing from the mystical land of Wales, Super Furry Animals hadn't performed live much since the release of their 2009 full-length, Dark Days/Light Years. They only delivered a modest UK tour in spring of 2015 and performed a few scattered festival dates that summer in celebration of the 15th anniversary of Mwng. Vancouver was hosting the band's first show of 2016, the launch of their first North American tour in over six years.
While SFA's setlist largely followed the greatest hits-ish selections heard during their Mwng reissue tour last year, there were a couple of moments that still showed a bit of rust. The pop vocal harmonies for "(Drawing) Rings around the World" sound lush like the Beach Boys on record, but they grated unevenly here, and the crash cymbal on "Run! Christian, Run!" was so hot that it distorted fiercely. However, these moments were short-lived and easily forgivable in the context of their generally impressive display of skilled musicianship, underscoring their highly distinctive songwriting chops that land somewhere between the Apples in Stereo, Primal Scream and the Beta Band, as well as their peculiar brand of showmanship, one rivalled only by the likes of the Flaming Lips.
SFA were economical with their banter, occasionally expressing humble thanks and asking how the crowd was feeling, but they could be quite droll. Apparently, the last time they were in Vancouver, someone kept yelling out "Ice Hockey Hair" in a threatening way, so they made sure to slip in a sweet rendition of that late '90s EP groove this time around, albeit under admitted duress. Later on, frontman Gruff Rhys mumbled something about forgetting the meaning behind the tolerance-preaching "Juxtapozed With U" before he broke out a Micro-Korg vocoder and held up signs asking for applause. Finally, during what Rhys announced as the last speakerlude, he noted that the band had taken the pledge to join the No Phony Encores Society, subsequently (and wisely) advising the crowd to resist phony encores in the future.
They hit you on several levels visually too. The word "ausencia" (Spanish for "absence") was noticeably written on Rhys's acoustic guitar, while a screen behind them showed lo-fi, trippy footage suitable to each song, like the figure skater for "Ice Hockey Hair" or the lady with flowing red dress dancing for "Zoom!"
With Rhys, guitarist Huw Bunford, bassist Guto Pryce, keyboardist Cian Ciaran and drummer Dafydd Ieuan wearing hazmat suits throughout much of their set, Rhys briefly rocked his famed red Power Ranger helmet, but the big costume change came at the end of their almost hour-and-a-half long set. After Ciaran was left to tweak out the synthetic pulses of "The Man Don't Give a Fuck" alone, the rest of the band returned in their iconic yeti onesies, with Rhys, Bunford and Pryce subsequently holding their axes aloft in a victorious fashion.
The first album I ever reviewed after deciding to become a music critic was their 2003 album Phantom Power, so it felt like destiny being brought full circle when they opened their set with a blistering take on its closing track, "Slow Life," and later worked in its charting singles "Hello Sunshine" and "Golden Retriever," the latter of which was heavily requested between songs by one boisterous fan. The few sound problems aside, the only real complaint of the night would have to be the lack of merchandise featuring Pete Fowler, the designer whose work has created the visual landscape of the Super Furry Animals since the '90s, but the warm, lasting memory of this show will suffice.