This was one of those rare performances—like Pavement at the Vic Theater in 1999 at the tail end of their Terror Twilight tour—that managed to make even sub-par material sound good. Supergrass have been at this rock n’ roll game for over eight years now. Hard to believe that their debut album, released while the band members were still in their teens, came out so long ago, but here they were onstage, polished professionals still in their 20s.
Watching them, it’s easy to forget how difficult it is to write catchy songs. You almost take it for granted since Supergrass have made amassing one genius pop single after another look so easy over the years. How else to explain the steady decline of commercial action and critical attention as the years have passed? They’ve gotten so good that we’ve become collectively immune to their flawless craft. Another brilliant Supergrass album? Tell us something we don’t know.
That having been said, I have to admit that their most recent effort, Life on Other Planets, is a slight disappointment. Of course, when you keep up such a high level of achievement for so long, a letdown is inevitable. Still, a mediocre Supergrass effort eclipses 95% of the releases in any given year, and songs like “Grace” and “Never Done Nothing Like That Before” make up for some of the more offensive T. Rex excursions on Life.
One question that came to mind as I was watching Supergrass: since when is it a requirement that a band play 80-90% of the songs from their newest release in their live show? It seems that every concert I go to these days, I’m guaranteed to hear almost everything from the group’s latest. I swear it didn’t used to be this way. I understand that now more than ever, with slumping sales and desperate record labels, bands are pressured to promote their current product. But when I go to see a band live, I expect them to cover their bases—meaning I shouldn’t be screwed if I don’t particularly like one of the band’s albums. As I said earlier, I’m not a huge fan of Life on Other Planets, so it was frustrating to hear them play nearly all the songs off that album (even if they did sound much better live than on record).
It might not have stung quite so badly if Supergrass had bothered to play more than two songs off of their crowning achievement, 1997’s In It For the Money. Unfortunately, that album was least represented in the setlist. Perhaps even more shocking was the omission of their signature hit, “Alright,” from their debut album, I Should Coco. Maybe they’ve simply tired of playing it after all these years, but a Supergrass set without that song almost doesn’t qualify as a proper show. Overall, I couldn’t complain about Supergrass’ musicianship or the energy they brought to the songs, but, before they hit Chicago again, I would suggest that they reacquaint themselves with their excellent catalog.
Openers the Coral made for the quite the study in contrasts, easily qualifying as one of the most bizarre collectives I’ve ever seen. Part hippie, part punk, and the rest acid-pop, these guys worked with so many diverse influences that I can’t help but feel that strange is a woefully inadequate descriptor. Their “songs” ranged from two-minute sonic freakouts to ten-minute sound collages with multiple movements. Ambition occasionally gave way to silliness, but watching them fall on their faces was more fun than it probably had a right to be.