If you are a Super Furry Animals fan and were present in the Olympia tonight what you just saw was two albums’ worth of weird, visceral, beautiful SFA madness, standard enough. What struck that elusive, most resonant psychedelic chord was that the majority of tonight’s highlights come in the form of songs rarely ever played live – having personally seen them in the region of twelve or thirteen times I had all but given up on hearing ‘Gathering Moss’, ‘Mountain People’ and ‘Hermann ♥’s Pauline’ live. So tonight wasn’t just about seeing the band live again, it was more than that, it felt like plugging the gaps from years doing so. A lot of people have probably seen the band play these songs – especially during their tombola phase – but most of the gigs I’ve seen have been in support of new material or maybe festival-friendly career-spanning retrospectives, the songs that felt to me like the essence of the band were always overlooked in favour of less esoteric stuff.
But that’s not the half of it. This tour is celebrating the 20th and nearly-20th anniversaries of two outstanding albums, Fuzzy Logic (1996) and Radiator (1997). Holistically speaking, all the songs sound well drilled and all the strange little yelps and quirks are present and accounted for. But the kicker and the biggest surprise of the night is that these songs, after years apart, belong together again. It’s hard to imagine most of them without the others and the band’s lyrical thematic on each is almost perfect; entirely random yet specifically in tune with the rest. These albums are far greater than the sum of their parts. They also allow the band to display a level of musicianship that tended to get masked by their own playfulness during live performances. Tonight there were no costume changes (apart from the fleeting appearance of the ‘Yeti’ suits), but some exquisite moments of interplay from the lads when the noise and screaming dissipates. The aforementioned ‘Gathering Moss’, in all of its acoustic, shimmering glory, sounds angelic with Rhys’ and Bunf’s alchemical harmonies sounding as clear as church bells on a wintry Sunday morning. The exact same can be said of ‘Long Gone’ and ‘Demons’, both mesmerising without a Power Ranger helmet in sight. Don’t get me wrong, the theatrics are what make some SFA shows special, but more than anything tonight it’s these absolutely killer but lesser exhibited songs. If you factor in that these albums, and the band, are loved for very niche reasons, you wonder why they’ve never toured like this before – playing complete albums. As a fan you will love the records for their seemingly random sequencing and spacing, like some kind of incoherent melding. Performed live that intangible clasp that links each one jumps out at you like a winged beast or some other type of super, furry animal.
Each song performed is exactly as it sounds on record. Normally this would be cheeky at best, lazy at worst, but when you have songs with so many moving parts I defy any fan to criticise such a manoeuvre. The blunt force trauma of ‘Something For The Weekend’, the literal beauty of ‘Gathering Moss’, the arm-in-arm singalong ‘For Now And Ever’ sounding as if it was lifted directly from a Broadway musical, all of these tracks seem to blend together on the stylistic hodge-podge that is Fuzzy Logic so why not just re-create them for the stage? I’m all for a bit of wig-out improvisation and losing your place in a song every now and again, but it’s glorious when a song stops dead on-point just like it does in your mind. As for Radiator, arguably the better of the two albums, the exact same rules apply. ‘The International Language of Screaming’ is as delicate as a lead pipe to the face and ‘She’s Got Spies’ into ‘Play It Cool’ are the healing process, every second of each sounds just like you expect it to, right up the last note. Finishing with the cascading ‘Mountain People’ and the audible riot-cum-anthem ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ you can imagine the scenes.
Super Furry Animals photographed for State by Leah Carroll