Supergrass / Sept. 27, 2005 / New York (Bowery Ballroom)
Supergrass is a decade removed from debuting as a trio of teenagers, mugging for cameras and cavorting to the top of the U.K. charts. The group is older, larger and showing classic signs of maturity fSupergrass is a decade removed from debuting as a trio of teenagers, mugging for cameras and cavorting to the top of the U.K. charts. The group is older, larger (minimally a quartet with keyboardist Rob Coombes, the 'Grass often travels with longtime percussionist Satin Singh) and showing classic signs of maturity for a rock band: the release of a greatest-hits set last year, and the reflective tone of the new "Road to Rouen," whose first single is a somber acoustic tune about departures.
For Tuesday's performance at New York's Bowery Ballroom, the band played up the maturity angle by dubbing the gig "An Intimate Evening With Supergrass" and playing the majority of the show as an acoustic affair. Its members were seated on stools and traded off instruments while a pair of old-fashioned lamps illuminated the living room-like stage.
But despite Supergrass' reputation for high-energy electrified live shows, the slower-paced set didn't feel like a compromise. Turning down the volume knob brought the group's considerable musical talents into sharp relief.
The show began with a solo Gaz Coombes on stage, bearded and suited with just an acoustic guitar, presenting the aforementioned single "St. Petersburg" crisply, but in the most stripped-down manner imaginable. He followed with the early non-album track "Wait for the Sun" before bassist Mick Quinn ambled on stage for energetic, if sparse, versions of two songs from the group's 1995 debut "I Should Coco."
Bit by bit, the rest of the band joined the fun, with drummer Danny Goffey jumping in on mellotron for "Late in the Day" before he stepped behind the drum kit. Material-wise, the set list drew from throughout Supergrass' career: "Kiss of Life" and "Bullet" from the "Supergrass is 10" compilation and all but two songs from the new record were spliced in with older favorites like "Hollow Little Reign" and "Sun Hits the Sky" (both from 1997's "In It for the Money") and a spirited cover of Gil Scott-Heron's "Lady Day and John Coltrane."
Regardless of their origins, almost every song came out rendered beautifully in their "intimate" incarnations. The new album's multi-sectioned opener "Tales of Endurance" proved one of the most moving numbers, with Gaz alternating between acoustic and electric guitars as the group navigated the song toward its conclusion. His lead vocals throughout the evening were mesmerizing, as he hit every note with conviction but also with a tenderness befitting of the context. And the new songs were also beneficiaries of the stools-and-lamps setup; the measured, reflective tone of much of "Road to Rouen" more than came across.
The music world would be lacking if Supergrass were to fade into rock-band old age, but Tuesday's performance confirmed that such a fate is not in the cards any time soon. The stools and acoustic guitars weren't a sign of tiredness as much as one of adventure. The rich catalog represented on stage deserves an appropriately reverent setting, and Supergrass seems certainly willing to continue serving its songs and its fans for many years to come.
Here is Supergrass' set list:
"Wait for the Sun"
"Caught by the Fuzz"
"Sittin' Up Straight"
"Seen the Light"
"Late in the Day"
"Kiss of Life"
"Sun Hits the Sky"
"Tales of Endurance"
"Rush Hour Soul"
"Road to Rouen"
"Hollow Little Reign"
"Lady Day and John Coltrane"