Gaz Coombes at The Academy, Dublin, on Friday 25th May 2018
Two years ago the mutton-chop godfather of Britpop, Gaz Coombes, stopped into Whelan’s for a thrilling run through of his Mercury Prize nominated album, ‘Matador’. Solo, armed with a piano, a guitar and a loop station, he cut the figure of a man reborn, one who had fallen in love with music again after time away from the spotlight. It was time he used wisely, honing his skills on a loop station and pursuing a more mature but equally as vociferous vein of songwriting as he produced in his youth.
That show was particularly memorable for Coombes’ immense performance, but also for the ignorance of certain members of the crowd which prompted Goldenplec to publish a piece called Silence is Golden.
Tonight, Gaz Coombes is back in Ireland with a new album called ‘World’s Strongest Man‘ in tow, the solo show replaced by a full band and backing singers. The new sense of vigour displayed in Whelan’s has grown in proportion to the band, with added swagger clearly visible in his voice and step – thankfully there’s no sign of Basic Barry tonight.
Naturally, the performance is more bombastic than that solo show two years ago – but it’s not simply a case of creating a wall of noise with no purpose. Coombes uses the band to push himself into new frontiers. The guitar work throughout the performance is exquisite, venturing into Jay Mascis-esque gales of cascading tremolo picking and cheeky atonal guitar mischief.
Coombes bookends his solo career to date with the title track from his third solo album and early single Hot Fruit in the night’s opening salvo; hair-trigger guitar lines quickly establishing the band’s prowess and the broad scope of Coombes’ material.
Buffalo provides an early highlight with live and processed beats mixing beautifully together. The extra musicians afford Coombes the opportunity to instrument-hop, here diving from the piano to his feet to play guitar midway through. The twinkling keys of Shit (I’ve Done It again) give way to more austere keys wrapped in a guitaricane. You can’t help but feel that this may be what Radiohead would sound like today if Thom Yorke still cared for the mainstream side of the street.
Oxygen Mask and Deep Pockets see Coombes pay homage to the light and dark shades of T-Rex. The atmospheric bowed guitar and strings of the former give way to the glam rock swagger of the latter, with added Robert Fripp-esque squelches for good measure.
The band leaves Coombes alone for a spine-tingling version of The Girl Who Fell To Earth, one of the best songs in the rock canon about the child of a composer. An alternative take on recent single, The Oakes, recasts the song as a maudlin piano vamp, once again evoking the holy ghost of Thom Yorke.
When Coombes notes the momentous occasion of the referendum and how emotional it’s been for the country, his mispronunciation of “Tá” as “Ta” is received in the spirit it was delivered and is reinforced further still by all three backing singers – including support act Piney Gir – wearing Yes badges.
The backing vocals play a prominent role throughout the show, especially on Walk The Walk where the repeated line “Baby you’re the one, you can walk the walk” anchors the funky rhythm together while the organ swells and picked tremolo guitars fight for prominence. They come to the fore again on set highlight, The English Ruse, as Gaz plays vocal conductor during the song’s breakdown, pushing the ladies to go higher and higher.
The fact that Coombes no longer needs to rely on throwing a few Supergrass songs into his set to maintain the quality should indicate just how far he has come in his solo career. The man on stage in The Academy is very much comfortable in who he is today, and so are his fans. But perhaps he should do us all a favour and teach Ed Sheeran how to use a loop station properly.