CQAF: Gaz Coombes – Black Box, Belfast
Familiar names that once rolled off the 90s tongue are starting to reappear – reformed, revived and ready for a reunion tour. For those brave enough to say no to the inevitably large pay-day, a solo career surely beckons.
Of the many musicians to go solo off the back of Britpop, very few have stepped out as bravely as Gaz Coombes. Confident in his own song-writing ability and musical direction, his acclaimed solo albums are an eclectic mix of agony and ecstasy, often touching on the darker elements of the human psyche, revealing a side not previously seen in his Supergrass hey-day.
Taking to the small stage in the Black Box, Coombes eased into the gig with the opening track from his sophomore album ‘Matador’; it was instantly evident that this was a going to be an intense show. His set list would prove to be a roller coaster of emotive music that transcending the formulaic structure of his pop-rock anthems of old. Intricate pieces of musicianship, explosive, melodic choruses and electronic beats combine to demonstrate the sheer creativity Coombes possesses.
Playing songs from both of his albums, the audience were treated to a display of a musician at the height of his powers. Songs like 20/20, The English Ruse and White Noise sounded full and eruptive due to his phenomenally tight band. Heart-wrenching ballad ‘The Girl Who Fell To Earth’, a touching ode to his autistic daughter, silenced the crowd with its wonderfully simple and emotive tone. However, it was the uplifting melody of his drug- meltdown-story, Detroit, in which the power and range of Coombes’ voice was fully visible; the audience sang and cheered along to a song that tells a cautionary tale of parties from a past life: “What a strange old time, the powder and the light/The mind is shot and the body’s fine.”
Between songs he had time to talk to the audience and appeared genuinely grateful that everyone had come to see him, reminding us that Belfast had always been one of his favourite places to come “back in the day”. It was very clear that this is Gaz Coombes the solo artist, and not Gaz Coombes, ex-Supergrass frontman – he doesn’t carry his past hits as a safety net should things not be going his way, as evidenced by the slight smirk in response to an audience member’s shouted request for ‘Alright‘. He has gained a lot of respect for doing his own thing and sticking to it.
The celebratory element in Supergrass’ music, and all of Britpop for that matter, is the fact that it never grows old. Those albums provide the best form of nostalgia. The young man who wrote ‘Alright’ has grown up and written mature music for an audience that, it feels, has grown up with him. Ally McKenzie, GiggingNI.com