Even if you don’t think you know Supergrass, you’ve heard – and probably love – their song, “Alright” (“We are young/We are free…”),
an uber-catchy, pop/punk teen anthem that’s been used in commercials and films galore whenever there’s a need for a youthful, optimistic vibe.
Supergrass’ lead singer Gaz Coombes was just 19 when that song became a huge hit and the trio he fronted began a breakneck rise to success as cheeky purveyors of raw but melodic Britpop, a sort of British version of Green Day. After two decades, six albums and umpteen tours, Supergrass called it quits in 2010 and Coombes launched a solo career that has so far spawned two albums – 2012’s Here Come the Bombs and last year’s Mercury Prize-nominated (very prestigious in U.K. music circles) Matador.
Earlier this month (Tuesday, March 22) Coombes brought his solo work to the States for the first time in an endearing set at Jammin’ Java, a far cry from the huge festivals that Supergrass used to play. It was clear from the start that, in a Billie Joe Armstrong kind of way, Coombes has grown up, matured as a musician, thinks about things in a deeper way – and still knows how to write great songs.
Pulling the majority of his set list (there’s a pic in the slideshow) from Matador, Coombes was truly solo – alone on guitar, or with the occasional keyboard loops adding atmospherics. His voice was strong, his between-song comments generally short, and he generated a quiet humility to an appreciate crowd fully prepared to let him do his own, new thing, without catcalling for hits of the past.
Midway through the set, Coombes dropped in Supergrass’ “Moving” as “a song I wrote with some friends of mine” and, for the second number in his encore, went way back, recalling his 15-year-old self’s run-in with the law in a buzzing version of “Caught By The Fuzz.”
But this was by no means a nostalgic affair. Unlike many rockers who play Peter Pan and feed the nostalgia beast, Coombes has moved up and on to making intriguing, contemplative music that well deserved the crowd’s receptive attention.
As a Kansas-born singer/songwriter with a slight alternative country bend to her indie pop, Piney Gir may seem like an odd opener on Coombes’ short U.S. tour, but the two are true musical mates. She’s lived in London for the past 18 years, performed on some of his tracks, and has played with members of his touring band (when he uses one).
Her whimsical – but never cloying – tunes have bright, catchy melodies and her voice has a charming lilt but, thanks to excellent guitar work by Garo Nahoulakian (lead guitarist, arranger and co-producer of her 2011 release, Geronimo!) there’s grit as well.
On “Keep it Together,” a sweet ditty from her most recent album, mR. hYDE’S wILD rIDE, Gir’s own bell-like lines on a small zither-style instrument were nicely counterbalanced by distorted guitar. On an older song, “Miss Haversham,” Nahoulakian’s bottleneck blues lines and a beat box added nice dark shadows.
Much like Coombes, Piney Gir defied expectations. While she looks like a quirky mix of cool B-52’s chic and retro rockabilly, her songs have an underpinning of steel-strong craft. Underestimate her at your risk – and take a listen to her catalog on Spotify.