33RPM Vox Pres. Gruff Rhys @ Black Box, Map KL

You know you’re a music geek/lover when you find yourself attending an intimate pre-show clinic with Gruff Rhys. Incoherent mumbles, deep personal rhetoric, spacing out… If this was a business seminar, we’d want our money back! But fortunately it wasn’t, and Gruff’s silent quirkiness was as charming as the songs he played later that night. We even got our CDs signed!

Image 33rpm VOX

After a quick chat with Gruff, we parted ways so not to keep him from getting ready for the show. Sipping a couple of beers down at Variety, we spotted more familiar faces trailing in. Soon, the 20-odd crowd from the clinic turned into a flash mob, no doubt waiting to catch opening acts Free Deserters and Couple. We got stuck along the way trying to dissect the scene with some people and ended up missing most of the opening acts. Damn!

By the time Gruff got on stage, the crowd had gone from ready-to-rock to passively-ready-to-rock due to the switch in dynamics. It’s kind of odd to watch a solo act go up after bands but Gruff took whatever energy that was there and multiplied it amongst the seated gig-goers.

Gruff has an obsession with hotel shampoo which explains more than just the name of his latest album. Manage-able hair aside, the Welshman is a hilariously bizarre performer. At one point, he plastered a cardboard cut-out to his guitar to make it “more aero-dynamic”.

Throughout the night, Gruff had something for everyone in his songs and he did it well despite not having a full band set-up. Compensating for band members were his noisy toys, metronome and assortment of instruments in addition to his aero-dynamic guitar.

Overall the tone of Gruff’s set was melancholic with some darn catchy moments (‘Sensations In The Dark’, ‘Conservation Conversation’ and ‘Shark Ridden Waters’) while he’s penchant for weirdness kept things from getting too serious (‘Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru’ and ‘The Court of King Arthur’). However, our favourite song of the night was ‘If We Were Words’. It was as if Gruff was a bonfire and we were all singing along: “… we would rhyme”.

Gruff Rhys sang, strummed and yodelled at Black Box, Map KL on Friday 6 May 2011. Check out snapshots of the night are at our gallery. Also, keep up with him at www.gruffrhys.com.