Review: Gruff Rhys, The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea

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I’d wager that there haven’t been many other gigs at The Wedge that have begun with the showing of what appears to be a 1970s documentary about Prince Madoc, a 12th century Welsh noble, who allegedly ‘discovered’ America 300 years before Columbus.

It is the prologue to erstwhile Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys’ latest project, American Interiors.

In the 1790s, Rhys’ ancestor John Evans went in search of a Welsh speaking tribe of Native Americans that would prove the story.

Along the way he became Spanish, was hailed as the last Conquistador, inadvertently established much of the American/Canadian border along the 49th parallel, took up French citizenship, and mapped out huge swathes of the country that would later help Lewis and Clark find the fabled North-West Passage. But when he finally found the Mandan tribe, he realised they were no more Welsh than any other tribe.

He died at 29 in New Orleans, heartbroken that his life’s work had been chasing a myth.

Rhys decided to recreate Evans’ journey, accompanied by a three-feet tall doll of the man, taking pictures along the way.

Loping on to the stage wearing a fox’s head hat, the singer tells this story in his dead-pan drawl with the timing of a stand-up comic in a show that is part travelogue and PowerPoint presentation, part gig.

And it’s a gripping performance.

Most of the songs are drawn from the new album but he has also managed to shoehorn tracks from his previous solo work into the narrative, including a brilliant The Court of King Arthur, that sees him chuck his misbehaving harmonica and neck-brace into the wings mid-song, hardly missing a beat.

Blending the hi-tech with his ramshackle presentation style, Rhys is an engaging character as he weaves his shaggy dog story.

And he has a winning way with a tune, whether it’s the ‘power ballad’ Walking into the Wilderness, the galloping Iolo, or the syllable-mashing Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be).

Maybe more gigs could do with a PowerPoint presentations...