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Gaz Coombes – Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 06/02/15

09 February 2015, 13:30 | Written by Ed Nash

The Queen Elizabeth Hall is usually home to orchestral performances, but tonight proves to be an inspired choice for what the renascent Gaz Coombes has in mind. As much as his majestic album Matador isn’t traditional rock and roll, neither is his performance this evening, in which he combines guitars, electronica and gospel music. This isn’t a man reborn, rather one who has never sounded better. I thought that translating Matador into a live context would be a challenge, with its minimalistic electronica it feels like a studio based record, but it’s brought to life by his marvellously fluent band, particularly in the spectacularly metronomic drumming of Ride’s Loz Colbert, not to mention Coombes' consummate mastery as a frontman.

When he arrives onstage flanked by his four piece band clad in a natty suit jacket, he greets the sold out throng with a cheeky “Hey” and launches into Matador’s opener “Buffalo”. Sat centre stage playing a Mellotron, when he starts singing you’re hit by the power of his most underrated instrument - his voice. But despite his embracing of loops and samples he hasn’t turned into Aphex Twin, indeed towards the end of the song he swings his acoustic guitar over his back and turns it into a plaintive campfire swoon.

Live he’s a troubadour extraordinaire, with his irrepressible showmanship and playful banter with the crowd, “What a beautiful venue, and look at you all!” His charisma and sheer joy in playing these songs makes him eminently likeable, this isn’t an aloof artist, but a man of the people.

The sparse ballad “Seven Walls”, a romantic reminiscence about his early days with his wife, starts beautifully with just the power of his voice and acoustic guitar and builds to an almighty crescendo with Colbert’s drumming, which makes you wonder how Coombes will do without him when he returns to Ride duties later this year. Similarly “The Girl Who Fell To Earth” is a touchingly beautiful lullaby to his daughter, “She gets her kicks from science.”

For all the considered opinion that his solo debut Here Come The Bombs was a misstep, it’s actually a natural bridge from Supergrass to who he is now, and live its better moments dovetail beautifully with the new songs. “White Noise” is a forgotten gem with a lovely careworn chorus, “I’m always trying to tell you, I get lonely and you’re all I’ve got.”

Then something even more magical happens. An army of people walk to the back of the stage and you realise that the two backing vocalists on Matador are going to be replaced by a 32 piece choir. The beautifully haunting "20/20" starts up and when the choir join the line “It’s alright, it’s alright… I’ll take the hurricane for you” it’s something else, and crucially they’re an integral part of the song, not a rock stars indulgence.

All 37 players then fly into the masterful “Detroit”. Written about a night of overindulgence, the fear in the line “There’s panic in my heart” becomes joyful soul music through the bravura of the choir, such is the sheer wall of sound and giddy euphoria they lend to the song. “To The Wire” is the closer, the choir beefing up the “Stay in my heart” refrain without drowning his voice, its so immersive you forget how crowded the stage is.

The encore starts with Matador’s title track. It’s a concise bookend to the album, but with a choir behind him he wisely elongates this moving song of defiance, a tear jerker that’s also heart-warming. The finale “Break The Silence” is a delirious Prince like funk workout that gets the audience dancing in the aisles. There’s a fabulous sense of spectacle and communion, which ends with Gaz Coombes dancing along to Colbert’s drumming and an outbreak of percussive clapping from the crowd. He high fives the choir and walks off to a deserved standing ovation.

The fact that he doesn’t play any Supergrass songs shows a break with his past but also a confidence in his present. Gaz Coombes may be making the most intense music of his career, but there was nothing dark about this evening, it was a joyous celebration of his love of music and one of the albums of the year thus far. If he can get the choir to accompany him at this summer’s festivals he’ll take some beating as the must see act. Tonight was one of those magical occasions when I fell in love with music all over again.

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