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Gruff Rhys goes on a conceptual adventure, East India Youth demand aural attention at The Chapel

Gruff-Rhys2

Photos by Diana Cordero // Written by Brooks Rocco //

Gruff Rhys with East India Youth //
The Chapel – San Francisco
November 18th, 2014 //

The lead-in to last Tuesday night’s show at the Chapel was one of uncertainty. How does former-Super Furry Animals lead Gruff Rhys command an audience with a table full of gizmos and contraptions? Who is that English bloke in the herringbone suit? Why is there a book on the merch table? Where is everyone?

All of these questions were answered in due time, as the room began to fill, and the schoolboyish East India Youth opened the show. With an eager but refined presence, he began his set arpeggiating on his Roland MIDI keyboard with a pulsing, triumphant piano, which slowly morphed into a beautifully enveloping wash of fuzz and color.

East-India-Youth

This, the opening of his brilliant 2014 record Total Strife Forever, was an equally impressive introduction to his set, which, much like the album, spanned the lay history of electronic music, from Detroit techno, to acid house, to Merzbow-like noise, to the more ethereal moments of Jon Hopkins, or Thom Yorke’s solo music.

There was no reason for East India Youth to stray from material from the aforementioned record, as the flow of the album, with it’s ups (the lush pastiche of ‘Dripping Down’) and it’s downs (the sublime and warmly ambient ‘Heaven, How Long’), and it’s absolute whoppers (the furiously pounding ‘Hinterland’), were already plotted marvelously.

Throwing a Fender bass around his neck, he whipped his body around while pounding the strings, adding a nice dose of live-ness to the electronic set – though how much the physical bass actually came through the sound system was a curio.

After the newcomer’s set, most were converted to East India Youth’s unique take on modern minimalism and sound-scapery, as they awaited the eccentric, though decidedly less dark Gruff Rhys to take the stage.

Gruff-Rhys

Taking the stage with a un-inflated life preserver around his neck, and after notifying the audience of the routes to all fire escapes, Rhys cooly requested that we all watch a short film, which would lead us towards the evening’s theme. A late 70’s BBC-esque documentary about the Welsh claim of American settlement pre-Revolution set the mood, with a dense conviction of the absurdity of the claim. To say that a loony Welshman had hopped in a boat, travelled to the Gulf of Mexico, befriended the Indians, and built castles in the 15th Century New World is historically batshit, but just rife for a concept record.

And Gruff recorded that concept record earlier this year with American Interior, a surreal journey through the American heartland by a character named John Evans, a Welshman seeking these Welsh-Indians, through song and spoken word. The show, mostly acoustic, was enhanced by multimedia in the form of an iPad controlled by Rhys, focusing on a slideshow and conversation, leaving the crowd laughing along with the extremely dry sense of humor of the Welshman on stage.

A varied night of unexpected aural and visual delights, brought to us by two visionaries from across the pond.

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