April 2010 marked the end of an era for the Britpop band Supergrass. June 2010 see the band play one of their farewell shows in Manchester to a rapturous audience. Fast forward to May nearly two years later, and the former frontman, Gaz Coombes, is launching his solo career with an intimate showcase in Manchester’s exclusive basement venue, The Ruby Lounge. The venue is not quite sold out but is very packed. News of this show was kept quiet for a while.
It is hard to anticipate what to expect tonight. The obvious questions are asked though, will he play any supergrass tracks? If so, what could they be? My money is on it being solely the debut solo album seeing as it is a showcase set. Just after 9.45, the lights dim and the band walk on stage minus Mr Coombes. Notable inclusions in the band are Gaz’s brother Charlie Coombes on Keyboards and additional Guitars & vocals, along with Loz Colbert formerly of Ride. The band start up and the opening sample of a distorted ‘ticking’ sound kick in. Gaz arrives on stage to an array of cheers giving us a brief wave and a smile before standing still at the mic, arms wrapped around the stand and launches into ‘Here Come The Bombs’. Also the opening track from the album it is a subtle beast, almost hypnotic. As it dies out, Gaz picks up his battered off white acoustic guitar and the band segue into ‘Hot Fruit’.
For most people here, this is all a surprise, an opening on to what is a strong contender for album of the year in my opinion. The band is on fire and there is an underlying groove which gets the people down the front shuffling around. Next up comes the rather rocky and catchily titled ‘Whore’. A great track on record but turns into a riff laden power beast live. I get the impression that this is a band who have not yet found their feet, still gelling and when everything is ironed out, they will rock the place.
We must not get sidetracked however. This is not a supergrass gig, it is Gaz Coombes. Amongst the layers of drums and guitars are some fascinating soundscapes. Seen more in effect later in the set with the likes of the gorgeous ‘Sleeping Giant’ and ‘Fanfare’. ‘Hot Fruit’ contains some great experimental sounds too, something which most contemporaries would look at with an air of caution. For Coombes however, it all comes natural. He has an urge to experiment and create something different and for me, this is what works so well with this album. He is out of his comfort zone from being in a rock n roll band, yet he is also carving a new path back to the realms of being comfortable.
Crowd interaction tonight is kept to a minimum for the first half. There is a point midway when an excitable fan on the front row cheers after ‘White Noise’ that it causes Gaz to exclaim “my my, you’re an excitable young chap aren’t you? let me shake your hand… what’s your name sir?” from this point on, you can see him relax on stage and become more confident. It’s as if that tiny human interaction just pushed him on to pull the stops out. ‘Universal Cinema’ is an old friend. Not in the essence that we’ve heard it from Gaz before but it contains so many elements of other tracks it is familiar. The opening instrumental is a mash up of Radiohead’s ‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’ and ‘There There’. It shouldn’t work, but it does. So much to the point that I now class the album as ‘Having that Oxford sound’. Something you can listen to and pinpoint elements of Radiohead, Supergrass, Ride and All Seeing Eye. This is not a bad thing at all!
Gaz confirms (ahead of playing it) that ‘Simulator’ is to be the next single. We get a very fraught and intense version of this tonight and it sounds majestic. It has a very 1960’s sound with poppy verses and a fuzzy chorus. As the track ends, one lad down the front excitedly shouts out “Gaz, that is a tune!” which allows us to see Gaz turn towards the guy and say thank you with a beaming smile across his face.
The final track tonight is ‘Break The Silence’. I will say this now… If this song is picked up by Radio 1, I believe this could be the track to break him into the mainstream on this solo venture. It lends itself perfectly open to some rather cool remixes, but in the live arena, this is an absolute monster! Rocked up and fuzzed up Gaz is screaming the vocals out to all in the room listening intently. We even get a drum and bass breakdown in the middle which allows Gaz to introduce the band and then allows us to clap and sing the chorus over and over until the band bring it all back up to a very loud crescendo. He apologises that it is the end, but informs us he will be back in the autumn “depending how the album does”.
There were no surprises tonight, just the album played in full. It is always great to see a musician hard at work and especially in the early stages of their career. I saw Supergrass many times, but tonight I caught a glimpse of the Gaz Coombes who has been missing for a few years. A relaxed and happy young man with a hunger for playing music. Treat yourself to the excellent album, and as soon as the tour dates are announced, get yourself a ticket.