Gaz Coombes - Holy Trinity Church, Leeds 20th November 2013 Live Review
"It was a really weird split", said my friend. "They don't hate each other, they just felt that no-one cared any more".
The band in question were Supergrass, the Oxford trio who landed smack bang on the nose of Brit Pop via the chirpy aceness of Alright and who went on to earn a clutch of awards before disbanding in 2010. I'm yet to check how accurate my companion's statement was - the official version is the classic "Musical differences" - but you did feel that, despite the critical adulation and some brilliant singles, Gaz Coombes, Mick Quinn and Danny Goffey were always chasing a niche that was never quite there.
Since then, the former has carved out a solo career, from which in 2012 sprang his début album, 'Here Come The Bombs'. One of the benefits of his new found single status as it were is the ability to avoid the treadmill of a highly risk averse music industry, which for stars of his vintage is forever packaging up Best Of or Heritage album tours, and this freedom brings us tonight to the Trinity Church in Leeds. Nestling underneath the gargantuan new shopping centre that took its name from the place of worship, as well as a venue it's also a respite from the snow outside; the thirty something audience likely weren't the first group of people to find refuge there.
Inside, the vaulted ceiling - held up by imposing columns with boards mounted on them saying "Hymns" on one side and "Psalms" on the other - is a reminder that these are places made in which to experience songs and celebration, a point not lost on Coombes, who prefaces the show by telling everyone that he wanted to experience playing in some of the most atmospheric venues in the country.
Travelling relatively light - acoustic guitar, piano for him, augmented by ex-Ride drummer Loz Colbert and a third guy who (somewhat unprofessionally) I missed the name of playing all that jinky mini-Korg stuff - the real focus for a thawing out crowd was on how familiar songs changed shape and tone. In a set mixed deftly, new songs like 'The Girl Who Fell To Earth' and 'One Of These Days' were poured in together with the more elemental moments of '...Bombs'; a record which sprang from a creative unblocking process triggered by Supergrass' split. It's on this material that the twilight really works its magic, as opener 'White Noise' becomes a different, starker beast altogether, whilst 'Hot Fruit' feels somehow more powerful through being less orthodox.
If there's anything to be gained from passing up on some of the easier pieces of the rock and roll lifestyle, then perhaps it means a form of growing up, of caring more about art than entertainment. Of all of tonight's songs, this feeling is best encapsulated in 'Buffalo'; it's quiet/loud pulses the work of a man now happier than ever away from the tyranny of pleasing anyone but himself. The night draws to a close with, amongst other things, a "cover" of his former band's staple 'Caught By The Fuzz'; a versioning that, even sympathetically delivered, reveals the gap between the boy of then and the man of now as being wider than can be measured in just years.
If there was a problem, it was brevity; a miserly hour and five minutes less than the frozen souls deserved on such a miserable night. As I made my way afterwards through the deserted pastel shades of the twenty first century cathedral to retail, I realised that in the end churches are places of birth and new beginnings, and for an artist trying to find some sort of absolution, they're as good a place to start as any.
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