Gaz Coombes' second and most recent solo album, Matador, is a mature and accomplished work characterised by a kind of wired tension miles away from the carefree cheekiness which permeated his output as frontman of Britpop darlings Supergrass. 'I'm an acrobat on the wire', he croons on opener 'Buffalo' over staggering, stuttering drums, and the perpetual sense of teetering on the edge pervades the whole album.
When he takes to the stage at a packed-out Roundhouse - hair grown out, the famous sideburns broadened into a bushy beard - for a rare solo performance, it seems that this darker, more serious Coombes Mk#II is what we're going to be getting. But despite the set heavily favouring newer material, this is a light-hearted performance which relies more on Coombes' ebullient delivery, friendly stage presence, and strong songwriting than on the arrangements and production which so enhance Matador's darker recesses.
The gig begins with Gaz on his tod, with only an acoustic guitar for company on opener 'Oscillate', switching back and forth to keyboard, with the occasional help of a drum machine, for the next few tracks. This accompaniment is the only shade of the electronica which pervades Matador, and that record's sense of paranoia is consequently overpowered here by the same atmosphere of friendly exuberance which characterised Coombes' earlier work with Supergrass. This has mixed results. 'The Needle's Eye' suffers for the substitution of its bleeps and bloops for a straight performance of vocal and strummed electric guitar, removing the nuances of the production but allowing the strength of the songwriting and Coombes' voice to shine through.
Indeed, as on the record, it's the voice which is the understated star here. Strong rather than spectacular, Coombes knows how to use his voice to service his songs, and it's particularly efficient in a live setting as it cuts, Bolan-esque, above his accompaniers - who rotate between a single drummer, full band, and string section. The warm, organic atmosphere is particularly amplified by the latter who accompany the gig's middle section, swelling and swooning under a gorgeous rendition of the ballad 'The Girl Who Fell to Earth'. The tenderness is reprised for the gig's encore, but this time homage is paid to the man who fell to earth, as the show closes with a moving version of 'Five Years' by London's recently lost son, David Bowie. Recent gigs have seen Coombes please the Supergrass fans in the audience by finishing with 'Caught By The Fuzz', and some will have been disappointed by the lack of his pre-solo material here, but in light of the maturity of his recent output, this somehow feels more fitting.
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