Live Review: Supergrass at the Avalon, July 12, 2008

Supergrass @ Avalon
Photo by the author

Despite overseas success in their native U.K., Supergrass seemed like the punchline to a joke when they were first heard stateside in the mid-90s. With a flip album title, seemingly novelty single, cheeky facial hair and a derivative sound (insert Kinks, The Who, Faces and T. Rex references here), they were by all appearances a one-hit Brit-pop band who lacked the depth of peers such as Oasis and The Verve and the ferocity and seriousness of chart-ruling U.S. bands like Pearl Jam. Other than some left-leaning commercial airplay and college appreciation, critical radio support never materialized, and Supergrass seemed destined for obsolescence.


Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the budget bin: five albums, a greatest hits collection and 14 years later, Supergrass is still here. With the release of Diamond Hoo Ha, their newest and perhaps best-rounded effort, they continue to defy the expiration date that should have seen them to their grave right about the time Bill Clinton started scoping out interns. And judging by the young, young, very young audience that showed up to see them display their wares Saturday night at the Avalon, Supergrass has another 14 years ahead of them.


Did Supergrass play the obligatory “new stuff?” Yes, they did. Did they play highlights from their career otherwise, touching on just about all of their releases? They did that too. And the thing is, their material continues to deliver infection, energy and melody – pretty much what rock music was once all about. In fact, Supergrass sounds more vital, more timeless today than ever, particularly stacked up against “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which lumbered from the house P.A. like a dated Dr. Marten stage-dive just minutes before the band took the stage.


While Diamond Hoo Ha has found Supergrass returning to form after their gentler and somewhat failed last effort, Road To Rouen, it was unmistakably their back catalog that set flames to the Avalon. “Moving,” “Mary” and “Pumping On Your Stereo” from 1999’s near-perfect Supergrass hailed the largest responses of the night; similarly, “Sun Hits The Sky” and “Late In The Day” from In It For the Money had equal effect. To be sure, front man/guitarist Gaz Coombes need not have repeatedly admonished the audience for shouting out song titles (“We don’t take requests, and the next person who does that…will be removed” he warned jokingly) – because if you wanted to hear it, they were gonna play it.


Touring as a five-piece with additional guitar/percussion and keyboards, the original trio of Gaz, drummer Danny Goffey and bassist Mick Quinn made certain to strip down to their core for the encore, which included a surprise cover of “Next To You”– a song by that other U.K. three-piece pop band, The Police (except better executed) — as well as the mandatory show-closer, “Caught By The Fuzz.” And though there’s nothing novel now about them playing that song, it might as well be a victory anthem considering the stakes against them when Supergrass started their career: at a time when heartfelt, fun and non-political music was so out of vogue, it was the song for them that launched a thousand riffs — and may we have one thousand more.


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