TVD Live: Gruff Rhys and East India Youth at the Chapel, 11/18

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-2

Recently I witnessed one of the most interesting live performances I have seen all year. Before his publicist reached out to me I have to admit that I wasn’t too familiar with Gruff Rhys other than the fact that he was the singer for critic’s darlings, Super Furry Animals. Now I am sort of obsessed with his latest effort, the multimedia experience called American Interior.

It’s a fascinating but complicated story, so let me do my best to sum up what Gruff is up to on this very ambitious and entertaining project.

Gruff is taking part in what he refers to as an investigative tour seeking out the final resting place of his relative John Evans, who left Wales in 1792 on a quest to find a mythical tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans. Evans, a 22-year old farmhand from the mountains of Snowdonia, Wales, responded to a plea for a brave soul to ascertain if there was indeed a tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans still walking the Great Plains, descendants of Prince Madog (widely believed to have discovered America in 1170).

Legend has it that during this extraordinary adventure, Evans wrestled the largest river reptiles ever seen in the Mississippi, hunted Bison with the Omaha tribe, defected to the Spanish in St. Louis, discovered imaginary volcanoes in Missouri, annexed North Dakota from the British, and created the map that guided Lewis and Clark on their legendary expedition. His adventure was cut short when he died broke and out of his mind at 29 in New Orleans.

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-3

Confused yet? Yeah, so was I at the beginning, but Gruff has several ways for you to participate in this journey with him in the form of American Interior. The story is told through Gruff’s multimedia exploration into what became of his relative John Evans and it comes in the form of a book, a documentary film, a brilliant new album, an app, and of course a tour.

Back in 2012, Gruff toured the United States seeking out the final resting place for Evans. He followed in his relative’s footsteps as he investigated Evans’s significance in American history, the true circumstances of his death, and the secret location of his burial.

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-4

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-6

The current tour which I was fortunate enough to witness at the Chapel in San Francisco featured music and visual story-telling as Gruff reports his “investigative concert tour using new songs, PowerPoints and a lively sense of humor with deadpan delivery.”

Rhys tells his story while sort of bumbling through a story board presentation and introducing puppet characters along the way. It’s part history lesson, part creative genius, and in the end a whole lot of fun that ends with the audience wanting more. I loved it and have since then spent my time reading his book, celebrating the new album, and following along with the app. I think this is the future of music right here, folks—not just an album of content, but a full on experience. The bigger question is, can anyone out there top this one?

A quick note about the one man show opener of the night East India Youth—he’s an electronic musician from Bournemouth, England. He released his first album Total Strife Forever earlier this year and it was nominated for the 2014 Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize Album of the Year award. This guy produces some of the most interesting and lush soundscapes live and even straps on a bass guitar to add some depth. Pretty cool stuff if you are into layers and layer of ethereal electronic music.

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-7

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-8

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-9

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-10

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-11

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-12

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-13

Gruff Rhys photographed by Jason Miller-14


East India Youth photographed by Jason Miller-3

East India Youth photographed by Jason Miller

East India Youth photographed by Jason Miller-2

American Interior, the album is out now on Caroline International and American Interior: The quixotic journey of John Evans, his search for a lost tribe and how, fuelled by fantasy and (possibly) booze, he accidentally annexed a third of North America is published by Hamish Hamilton.

Check out high res photos from the show here.

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