Furry Animals run rings around the Rough Riders

<preform>Super Furry Animals, Guildhall, Southampton;<br>Cosmic Rough Riders, University of London</preform>
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

With the best bands – the ones you take deep inside your heart and treasure – words are never enough. There are no adequate means to verbalise why one band, above all others, have become an indelible part of your psychological landscape.

For the pop critic, this is impossibly frustrating. What is it about Super Furry Animals that makes you smile the way a small child does when they first see snow falling? How is it that their melodies – the lazy, George Harrisonesque guitar line which opens "Ice Hockey Hair" for example – somehow seem to "understand" you telepathically, to anticipate your mood?

It's nothing that can be communicated through normal critical analysis. It's in the texture, rather than the text. Of course, in this regard they're lucky to have in Gruff Rhys a singer whose voice resonates with a rare and heartmelting humanity. They're also fortunate, by happy accident, to have grown up in geographical – and indeed linguistic – isolation from the trend fascism of the London music scene.

This is what freed them to draw on all manner of influences, whether approved or verboten: for example, Brian Wilson (see "It's Not the End of the World") – and – Jeff Lynne ("Rings Around the World"). Acid house (the 20 minutes of punishing techno which they leave running as they go offstage) – and – Seventies disco (the peerless "Juxtapozed With U").

Tonight's most sublime moment is the almost indecently lavish John Barry-meets- Burt Bacharach opulence of "Presidential Suite", in which Rhys employs Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky's liaison as a double metaphor for the corruption and decadence of power, and for the grand, heroic self-absorption of love. "When we met there were fireworks in the sky sparkling like dragonflies/Spelling 'All bad folk must die'." As George Dubya's own fireworks gather in Uzbekistan, there's an uneasy sense of déjà vu.

Like every other form of art, rock music after 11 September will never be the same. A certain "freedom of imagery" has been lost (or, at least, suspended). Above the stage, 13 screens of varying sizes show footage from the pioneering "Rings around the World" DVD. An uncanny number of images could only have been created "before", and now possess uncomfortable accidental meanings. A cartoon jet blithely turning low loop-the-loops over major cities. A woman falling to earth from a tower block. A view of the New York skyline, with the World Trade Centre still there.

Sometimes it's deliberate. The Brecht quote before "No Sympathy", for instance ("Don't rejoice in his defeat you men/For though the world stood up and stopped the bastard/The bitch that bore him is in heat again"). Or the way Gruff introduces "It's Not the End of the World: Question Mark!", with footage of the Hiroshima cloud mutating into a dandelion.

Before "Receptacle for the Respectable", Gruff mutters something about "a very special guest". Sir Paul in Southampton? Surely not. In the end, a man wearing an ironic John Lennon mask appears behind Gruff's antler-encrusted Vocoder console and rhythmically crunches celery in Macca's place. The blunted bossa nova of "Northern Lites" sets the mind meandering onto idle questions, (such as, are SFA the only band who can write about drugs without sounding like twats?) before the show hurtles towards its finale with a sequence of SFA's most cathartic moments ("Do or Die", "Calimero", "Night Vision") and the immortal screamalong anthem "The Man Don't Give a Fuck". And that says it all.

"We don't need a revolution in the summertime," sings Daniel Wylie, Cosmic Rough Riders' munchkin of a frontman (imagine a compressed Bobby Gillespie). Well, it's autumn now – the season for bonfires – and perhaps we do "need" one. If the smell of leaves were to mix with the acrid fumes of burning metalised plastic from pyres of Starsailor, Travis, Coldplay and Cosmic Rough Riders CDs, it couldn't happen a day too soon.

Like SFA, CRR also have their origins far from the London music scene (a community centre in Glasgow), but unlike SFA, they're utterly in thrall to the litany of approved reference points. Before a string is strummed, Wylie, has already sung "Her Majesty", the hidden track from the run-out groove on "Let It Be". From this moment on, it's clear that the Rough Riders won't be straying from the National Trust footpaths.

When you "grow out of" indie rock, this is what you're meant to grow into: ginger sideburns, and a working knowledge of Buffalo Springfield. Wylie, Stephen Fleming and Gary Cuthbert have dedicated their lives to replicating the high harmonies of the Byrds and Gram Parsons, or, in Wylie's case, the sustained vowels of Michael Stipe.

These people, make no mistake, are cranks. Forever on tour (they spent much of September playing the outermost isles of Scotland), they're a rock equivalent of those Jesus Army buses you see on the high street, dedicating their lives to spreading the gospel of "real music". A note-perfect – and pointless – cover of Neil Young's "Country Home" is followed by the dedication "God bless Neil Young". And God help us all.

s.price@independent.co.uk

Comments