Super Furry Animals at Somerset House 18th July 2009

Musicians whose music bears little or no relation to what has come before are few and far between. Innovation is clearly a good thing, but it is not the only goal and almost always involves moulding different influences to create something that is an evolution of what earlier bands were doing. Musicians inevitably add their own stamp when copying their idols, and eventually, hopefully, they find their own voice. A great band’s own voice is something truly special and unique. Something new.

El Goodo are one of the relatively few bands who view music as a homage. Their songs are reasonable, their sound is pleasant on the ear, and they don’t exactly sound like anyone else. They do however sound like a late 60s band. Not any particular late 60s band, rather they sound like they have taken those little elements of other bands’ sounds that place those bands in the 60s, and have melded them into an uber-60s, country-pop behemoth. Only they aren’t exactly behemothic, they are less fragile and light than a moth but not exactly blessed with enormous power or size, though clearly that isn’t the point.

I thought of the Zutons, but the Zutons sound is more original, and downright better. Their myspace page lists them as friends with the Coral, which makes more sense. I finally concluded that they are more like “Scotland’s premier Garage/Beat group” The Thanes, whereby success is measured in the purity of the homage rather than critical acclaim or album sales.

I’m jealous of their ability to write a song, and to get on stage and play it competently, after all my abilities on the guitar are somewhat limited. But ultimately I am left sad that a band can show so little fight, so little desire, so little faith in passion and the future. Part of that may be the melancholy that they successfully evoke, but I fear that mainly it is the waste of talent doing something that is so relatively lacking in point.

I take in the surroundings, which are quite beautiful, however both clouds and a sign marked “Inland Revenue” hover ominously in the distance. I do prefer smaller venues, I do prefer roofs and ceilings and walls and toilets that are only 10 metres away and bars that serve beer in glasses. But even I have to concede that the sound is OK, and on a clear summers evening, or even in the summer sun, this would make a damn fine venue.

I’m no great Super Furry Animals fan. I think I have a couple of albums and ‘The Man Don’t Give a Fuck’ and ‘Golden Retriever’ are top notch songs. I’ve seen them once before, and back then their set which progressed from beautiful, practically-acoustic, pop, to a huge techno encore, via 30 minutes or so of the main set’s climax where they were one of the best rock bands I have ever seen. I might have been in an unfeasibly good mood having just witnessed Goldie Lookin’ Chain for the first time, but I was left with the impression that they were one of the best live bands around.

It is no great criticism of them to say that last night they left me less blown away, they would have had to have been better than awesome to have achieved that. They were, however, superb. They are so damn likeable, they are so irreverent but so unbeligerant. They write excellent songs and they clearly want to please a crowd. Their set had less of a clearly defined progression than the last time I saw them, and perhaps less variety as well, which perhaps meant that I was left with the impression that they are a very good band, rather than 2 or 3 very good bands as I was before.

In some ways their starting point appears to be the same as El Goodo’s, the Beatles and a golden era of country and guitar-pop, but they throw in hard rock, techno, kraut-rock, and Super Furry Animalness. They move effortlessly from one sound to another, all the while combining a variety of influences and retaining a clear sense of themselves. They are in many ways the complete opposite of El Goodo.

I think that many if not most of my favourite bands are fairly easy to define. They take a sound and hone it. Relatively few try to take a wide range of influences and mix them up in all sorts of different ways. You could say my tastes are simple, but I prefer to think that they are just fucking punk rock. Anyway, I think that explains why I don’t love the Super Furry Animals. It is more my problem than theirs, and it does not mean to say that I don’t like them a lot and have a lot of affection for them. I’m not going to buy their records but I sure as hell hope a load of other people do.

If anyone wants to know what songs they played: ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ was at the end; Golden Retriever was near the beginning; I’m pretty sure they played ‘Mt.’ off the new album (‘Dark Days/Light Years’ for those who don’t know how to use the internet).

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