Neon Neon at Village Underground

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Neon Neon is made up of Gruff Rhys of favourites Super Furry Animals and Bryon Hollon (aka Boom Bip). Their first longplayer, Stainless Steel, was a concept album about the life of car designer John DeLorean. Their recently released second record, Praxis Makes Perfect, is another concept album, this time about the life of Italian rebel publisher, Giangicomo Feltrinelli. They had put on a few live shows to support the release, including three consecutive nights at the Village Underground in Shoreditch, London.

A few days before the show, I received an email with instructions to wear red clothing and bring a book to exchange with a fellow comrade. It went on to detail that it was a promenade performance, featuring moderate nudity and gunshots. When I told my friend, his reply was, “Moderate nudity! Yes!!”.

neon 1We arrived at the venue and, in the queue, a woman dressed as a Russian soldier was speaking through a megaphone telling us to vote to get rid of the monarchy. A couple of burly Russian soldiers frisked us on entry and a woman asked us to cast a vote on a machine on whether to keep the monarchy or not. The venue was decorated with filing cabinets, typewriters and books with the brick walls featuring projections of videos and slogans from the era. After a brief announcement, the show began with Gruff and co performing the opening track from the album. Actors from the Welsh National Theatre played out the story on various different platforms and on stages which moved through the performance space during the night. The story started with Feltrinelli being offered the manuscript for Dr Zhivago and having to smuggle it out of Soviet Russia. It moved into the 60’s with a naked lady being painted – the “moderate nudity” – and Andy Warhol making an appearance filming the gathering. Feltrinelli then ends up in Cuba hanging out and playing basketball with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. He was then captured and tortured by the CIA who were seeking the location of Guevara. He eventually had to leave his family and go on the run before dying in suspicious circumstances following an explosion.

The events were very professionally acted out with many of the actors playing multiple roles with quick costume changes. The music was the perfect accompaniment to all the action and this was truly a unique experience for a live music performance. Gruff is a very talented, creative musician and you never know what he is going to come up with next. But you do know that it will be different and it will make you smile.



Words and pictures by 25ThC