Ten years ago a hairy, mirthful trio of teeth and textured tunes appeared on the musical radar of every fan of post-punk-pop in the form of Supergrass’ debut album I Should Coco. Supergrass has subsequently delivered an album of potent rock songs every couple of years since. To celebrate this milestone the band released Supergrass Is 10, a best of album by any description that charts the credible musical history of Gaz Coombes, Mickey Quinn and Danny Goffey. From the Small Faces and the Kinks by way of the Buzzcocks, Supergrass breathlessly set about chronicling the mischievous misgivings of miscreant teenagers set to tight but rocky guitar, piano and drum layouts.
4 Oct 2004: Webster Hall New York
Once the overzealous smoke-machine solo had finished and the audience was allowed a split-second to make eye-contact with the stage, darkness fell and quiet descended. One hour and 25 minutes later, Supergrass had rocked through an accomplished, mature but energetic set including a 20 minute acoustic segment in the middle. Gaz et. al. were undeterred by the crazy person that leapt on the stage mid-song or by the hapless loon loudly mumbling the name of a song that may not even have been produced by this group. The boys produced a performance that closely matched the sound heard on the original recordings but when variation appeared it worked marvelously.
The event appeared to leave everyone in the room reeling from an exhausting sense of what live music is meant to sound like. Not once did I flinch from a song stretched to the limits of entertainment or due to a sound twisted into a feedback driven nightmare akin to a cat being drained of its blood. This was a proper rock show.
As soon as “Lenny” thundered along on its provocatively dangerous bassline, with accompanying throwback lead guitar riffs, people began moving. Not moving in the way audiences sometimes sway or nonchalantly roll with the music, but pogo. The vertical take-off and landing that used to accompany live events when music was vibrant and alive. Driven catatonically by the sheer glee of music’s rediscovery as being a fun medium, the crowd yelped in excitement as the second track of the evening, “Richard the III”, crashed into the consciousness and played out with an extended Gaz Coombes guitar solo, to cue more revelry from all and sundry.
Fast, energetic and oh so right, THIS is what I’ve been missing. Not raucous new-wavers drowning in their own musical mire or fey bands of boys and girls peddling their earnest beliefs in loves true will and all that guff. Supergrass delivers music that makes me forget I’m the wrong side of 30 and still dabble in fun but only at weekends when one’s partner is not checking how you look in the latest blazer.
Twenty-seven minutes in and the group walked off stage, with only Gaz and Danny returning clutching acoustic guitars. “Caught by the Fuzz” and the sumptuous “Late in the Day”, with their beautifully lulling acoustic chords, could have transported you to times when minstrels serenaded groups of villagers with tales of strange lands afar. Surprisingly, “Caught by the Fuzz” worked effortlessly as an acoustic track, especially when considering that in its original form the song is built around wild driving bass and fast paced percussion and weaves the troubles of youthful experimentation and adventure into a song of regret and remorse. The ten years the author has gained since the creation of “Caught by the Fuzz” coupled with the gentle acoustic treatment, make it feel like a lesson passed on from a wise parent and not a story told “down the pub” by a reckless teenager.
On the band’s return to the stage, “Kiss of Life”, a wriggling, writhing disco-funk track that even Beck would have been proud of, got the hipsters hips gyrating again. “Strange Ones” didn’t carry the menace and eerie social detachment of past performances but instead reflected on the places Supergrass had visited on their ten year journey. Of course they played “Alright”, the commercial hit that helped establish them as a core element of the Britpop summer…er…movement. As soon as the English-pub piano chords chimed, the few people that weren’t jumping up and down before now joined in and the Supergrass hypnosis was complete. Old favorites “Mansized Rooster”, “Pumping on Your Stereo” and “Sun Hits the Sky” bounced and buzzed along but all too soon the show finished. It was as if you were getting happily drunk on the memories of growing up listening to these anthems and as soon as the lights came back up everyday responsibilities were there waiting for you again. At the show’s conclusion Gaz raised his arm and in the manner of a man content with his lot and warmed by being back where he belonged, offered a triumphant “Cheers,” and that was that.
The boys are apparently building (or having built) a new studio in France from where they can focus on writing and recording from my perspective at least an eagerly awaited fifth album.