To your right, Danny Goffey is embracing the metaphysical implications of the in-the-round virtual reality gig: “it’s like being inside your own brain!” he shrieks. Turn to face the other way and Gaz Coombes, in his lounge cowboy garb, is sidling up to his extensive pedal station to thank you for your “virtual applause – we can virtually hear it!” and hoping you’re “sitting or lying comfortably” before he proceeds. Behind you, keyboardist Rob Coombes starts hammering out the Ziggy strut of ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’ on an organ you could practically reach out and play the lower notes on and, opposite him, bassist Mick Quinn warns Danny to “keep it light…”
It does indeed feel, in a Kaufman-esque way, like Being Supergrass. Thanks to the technical wonders of phone-based VR – courtesy of Goose Island Beer Co. and in aid of CALM and Nordoff Robbins – the cardboard-visored viewer is transported onto a virtual Goose Island podium in the centre of Oxford’s Bullingdon Club (the Cowley Road venue, not the training ground of Prime Ministerial inhumanity), surrounded on all sides by the ‘Grass at very close quarters.
When they fire up a furious opening ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ or rip into ‘Richard III’ like a speed-freaking Led Zeppelin the effect, as opposed to having music blasted at you from a stage, is of being inside the song. It could barely get more intimate if Supergrass turned up on a flatbed truck to play in your recurring dream about directing traffic naked.
The band echo the sense of the bizarre, joking their way through the between-song silences. “We haven’t played here since we were about nine,” Danny says; “it was definitely illegal,” Gaz nods. Their solution is a spritely hits set with about as much flab on it as the band in their bed-riding prime. A hazy ‘Mary’ – essentially Beck’s ‘Where It’s At’ given a Britpop glaze – gives way to a spacious psych ‘Moving’ and the gentle Noelrock of 2005’s ‘St Petersburg’, and from there we’re straight into Ally Pally encore territory.
‘Grace’ is pure carnival pop velocity akin to getting a faceful of candyfloss on a waltzer; ‘Strange Ones’ is a four-minute ram-raid on ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ and ‘Alright’ comes across more clean-cut and sparkling than ever, a consequence of the direct-to-your-senses delivery. It has such crunch and clarity it’s like having your brain hard-wired into the mixing desk.
The 360-degree immersion of VR might be suited to more sedate acts, at least until you can turn around and find yourself in a virtual moshpit. But the amiable effervescence that Supergrass have managed to maintain over the course of their reunion – in contrast to so many tired Britpop comebacks that long forgot the sheer thrill of the thing – makes this a compulsive yet reassuringly familiar introduction to the new world, just like they were in ‘94.
As a jazzy interlude threatens to break out into the fire-spitting freak-out of ‘Sun Hits The Sky’ and Danny considers kicking his drums over at the climax of ‘Lenny’ (“but that camera in the middle is quite expensive, isn’t it?”), Gaz declares “it’s been weird, but a good weird”. And “good weird”, V-Rockers, is undoubtedly the future.