Gaz Coombes, Mitch King @ Oxford Art Factory, 13th Sept 2018
Solo tours from artists known almost exclusively for their work with bands are often approached with caution. Will they be able to replicate the spirit of their recordings and maintain the integrity of their songs with just their voice and a few instruments on stage? Some artists take the fully acoustic approach – “These are the stripped back, skeleton versions of my songs,” they say. Others create a new experience and approach the songs from different and fascinating angles. Gaz Coombes successfully took the latter option.
Up first, Mitch King serenaded the arriving punters with a set that showcased his technical ability as a guitarist and a voice that fits the template of the soulful, bluesy, easy-listening and surfer-friendly sounds that the likes of John Butler, Jack Johnson and Ben Harper have built careers on. The audience were drawn to King’s friendly demeanour and clear talent but it all sounded like we’ve heard it a million times before. It wasn’t helped by detours into Heartbreak Hotel and AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
Gaz Coombes bounded onstage still looking younger than his years and with that cheeky street urchin grin intact. Many would have been there hoping to relive 90s memories with some Supergrass tracks but for that they’d need to wait until the very end of the hour-long set. This was all about Gaz Coombes the solo artist – now three albums deep into his post-Supergrass career. Much of his performance focused on the recent World’s Strongest Man album, his most textured and genre-mixing collection of soulful psychedelia to date, and its predecessor Matador.
Drum loops, keyboards, effects units, acoustic and electric guitars were all at Coombes’ disposal and the newest songs in particular benefited from the palette of sounds on offer. Wounded Egos, Shit (I’ve Done It Again) and The Oaks highlighted the impressive range and quality of his voice with soaring falsetto and a strong soul-meets-Radiohead tone and texture to the songs. Deep Pockets was a Krautrock groove that spiralled into the stratosphere on the back of distorted guitar and the pneumatic insistency of its rhythm while Detroit was a strummed, heady rush of cascading melodies.
Humble and grateful to the audience for turning up after a decade-long gap between tours, Coombes had the perfect encore up his sleeve with a dive into two songs from his old band’s songbook. Moving was soaring and euphoric before he left us with a song about “getting in trouble with the law” that drew a cheer from the crowd and communal singing as he tore through Caught By The Fuzz. Coombes is on a creative run that’s hit 25 years and though it was built on the back of Supergrass he showed that he’s more than earned the respect and continued support of his fans through his solo career.