Tirsdag 14.mars 2023
Supergrass’s prolific and multifaceted frontman, whose solo output is reminiscent of but also strikingly different from the songs he wrote for that band, came to John Dee on the evening of 14 March, with a full band, towards the end of his European tour in support of his new album Turn The Car Around, released earlier this year.
In the eighteen-song, near two-hour set, we got eight songs from the new album and six from the 2015 release «Matador» and it showcased Coombes’s talents as a songwriter as much as a frontman. The concert was a satisfying mix of high-power, upbeat numbers like «Salamander» and «Detroit» (which was particularly good), but also more subdued pieces like «The Oaks» and «Not The Only Things». The crowd knew the stuff, the whole catalogue, sang along, danced, and waved their arms to emphasise the lyrics they liked best. He was in the company of ildsjeler.
Although the concert started with a slightly nervy atmosphere, with «Needle’s Eye», it wasn’t long before the band was swinging for «Deep Pockets» from the 2018 release «World’s Strongest Man», and the atmosphere had built up into something compelling for the two-hundred odd people who had ignored the snow and ice to hear him. This was mostly down to Coombes, his stage presence, the power and commitment of his performance. A part of that was his candour. He told stories about how a trip out to a concert with his younger daughter during the pandemic, and the special atmosphere he had experienced there, had given him the inspiration to finish «Long Live the Strange» on the new record, and even more moving was his description of the journey he had been on learning to see the world through the eyes of his older, autistic daughter. That tale gave «The Girl Who Fell To Earth» (from «Matador»), which he then presented as a solo acoustic number, an affecting personal context which transformed it. The audience was captivated. Indeed, as one well-meaning heckler at the back pointed out – «No mobile phones». Coombes agreed that it was cool, but said he didn’t mind anyway, especially as he felt he was looking «hot» that night. There was also a notable absence of the usual prattle you get at concerts in the Big Double-O these days.
The other most striking thing about the show was the fidelity of the performance to the original arrangements. The eight-piece band (himself, drums, bass, guitar, keys and fx, and three backing vocalists) only just fit onto the stage, but what it gave them was the ability to give the songs a straight performance, which added to the impact of the show. Even tracks like «Feel Loop (Lizard Dream)» seemed to be done «live», with the sequencer run from the keyboard not from a backing tape.
The encore was short, but a perfect summary of the whole gig. First, we got a cut-down acoustic arrangement of «Matador», and then a raucous, driven performance of «The English Ruse», with real drama provided by the full band as Coombes conducted the backing vocalists in faithfully reproducing the curious choral break that leads into the final section of the song.
It was too short for the undersigned. I could have heard it all again and more, and all the stories in between. Not to be missed next time he comes to our shores. 5/6
Text: Alex Maines
Photography: Anne-Marie Forker