Gaz Coombes at The Hi Hat, Tuesday April 25th 2017
Gaz Coombes has a show at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever on Thursday night, but he also played an even more intimate gig at the Hi Hat on Tuesday night, and I was there, standing front row.
The former Supergrass frontman looked very comfortable on stage, telling us how he appreciated this beautiful venue (the Hi Hat), and he had such a cool way to talk to us, that I immediately liked him. I am not sure how much he wanted us to forget about his Supergrass past, but he was obviously there to play his solo material, the songs from his ‘Matador’ 2015 album, plus a few singles he had released since his band break-up in 2010, and even a few new songs.
Before him, Marjorie Fair, a very quiet singer songwriter (I stupidly expected a woman but he was a guy) played his delicate compositions on acoustic guitar with a very Troubadour-like melodious falsetto. There was something a bit ancient in his melancholia and his gentle finger picking received plenty of cheerful reactions from the crowd.
He was followed by Simone Turkington, who was such an original surprise: instead of another musical act, we were treated with a high class magic number! I can assure you, this woman was extremely good, no wonder she works at Hollywood Magic Castle! From guessing invisible cards to multiplying cords and threads, reassembling shredded newspaper or guessing way in advance large numbers obtained by multiplying random numbers given by the crowd, she was amazing and there was not one impossible task which didn’t look easy to her. I was very close and didn’t comprehend a thing, her number was funny and very entertaining and I began to wonder why we don’t see more magicians opening for musicians.
Alternating between a keyboard and one of his 4 guitars, Gaz Coombes played alone on stage, he was sometimes using drum machines and samples to layer up some of his songs, but it was mostly a very stripped down affair, with Gaz’s powerful voice shining over acoustic guitar and keys most of the time. If you remember about Supergrass’ Britpop hooks, you have to partially forget about them, all night long, the music was the introspective kind, leaving the fun hooks for the nostalgic ones. I mean by this that Coombes’ songs sounded much more reflective and meandrous than anything Supergrass has ever done, with tempest-in-a-guitar parts and meditative to passionate vocals. I may not have listened to Supergrass long enough, but everything from them sounds familiar in a very catchy way, and if there was nothing in Gaz Coombes’ set similar to the band’s irresistible and perfect popbrit sweetness, you could dig here and there some reminiscence of their hard hitting pop. After all, the band could have fell just between the Beatles and the Kinks, but not everything in Supergrass’ repertoire was like their super hit ‘Alright’.
Coombes seems to be more interested in textures than hooks these days and there was not a moment he didn’t sound great and uninspired. On guitar or keyboard, his songs sparkled like sonic journeys into his personal life. There were the melancholic ‘One of these Days’, the luminous ascending and strained melody of ‘Detroit’, the meditative ‘Seven Walls’ that he introduced as a song ‘about being young, alive and free, and feeling alright’, or the moving ‘The Girl Who Fell to Earth’, which was not an homage to Bowie, but a sweet song about his autistic daughter, as he told us. The semi acoustic set definitely showcased his great voice and its interesting strained dimension, which gave to the songs all the pain and hurt they seemed to enclose.
Supergrass opened for Radiohead in September 2003 at the Hollywood bowl and probably else where, and the name of the UK superstar group certainly came to my mind a few times during the show, although this may be more obvious on the recording of the album than on a live rendition with the use of a sole guitar… Just listen to the furious krautrock-y atmosphere of ‘Hot Fruit’ or the dreamy exotic kaleidoscope of ‘Oscillate’! However, Gaz has come up with his own thing there, and beyond the vague Radiohead inspiration, the hooks still surfaced, strong and even bolder after several listenings.
He seemed to be very grateful for all the clapping, thanking us again and again, looking as modest as a beginner, should I repeat that the band he fronted from 1994 to 2010 played at the Hollywood fucking Bowl? It’s always refreshing to see someone from a very popular band acting modest and accessible, so accessible that a girl in the crowd jumped to hug him when he finally gave up for one song (‘you want something old?’) and performed a Supergrass song, ‘Strange Ones’ during the encore. He looked a bit confused for half a second.
All set long, Gaz Coombes played with the confidence of a superstar and the humbleness of a newcomer, despite the fact that everyone in the room was rooting for him. Being in a successful band for 20 years is one thing, but being alone and looking vulnerable on stage is another thing, this time the songs were truly his, he didn’t have any help from his bandmates, and it was necessarily more intimate and emotional, you could hear all this in his voice. This time he was not pumping our stereo, he was getting way too personal for this.
Shit (I have done it Again)
One of These Days
The Girl Who Fell to Earth
Strange ones (Supergrass)