Oslo, London – Monday September 9
Very few people here tonight could be considered young. Everyone here has long given their freedom to Google, Facebook and all the rest. And, whether we can continue to keep our teeth nice and clean very much depends on whether a no-deal Brexit will affect our ability to buy toothpaste once constituents of this fair isle are plunged into a miserable existence of collecting rainwater to wash and trying to eek seven days of sustenance out of a solitary raw potato.
There’s been some cultural revisionism about Britpop in recent times. They say it was regressive. Jingoistic. A signpost to the little Britain we’ve become. And yet for a minute there, on the television, the radio, even the pop charts, bands filled with women, with people of colour, with working class folk, with dreamers, fops and freaks, with brilliant weirdos, conceived the last time this country didn’t feel like a wasteland. It couldn’t last. Nothing good ever does. But what’s been forgotten are how endless the possibilities then seemed. We were young, we were free, we really did keep our teeth nice and clean.
None more so than the reformed Supergrass, tonight playing their first London show in at least a decade, an observation flagged by singer Gaz Combes – stuttering the words out, seemingly thrown by the fevered situation he finds himself in – as the band launch into – like The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ or the Buzzcocks’ ‘Orgasm Addict’ – their cryogenically youthful, eternally brilliant debut single ‘Caught By The Fuzz’. They follow it up with their second, ‘Mansize Rooster’. It is, also, exquisitely skill. Then their third, ‘Lose It’. And then the most extraordinary thing happens. It dawns on the room that every single person in it is beaming toothy smiles. Turns out we really do still do keep our teeth nice and clean.
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‘Moving’ follows and the room begins to bounce. From the same era and the band’s self-titled third album comes ‘Mary’. ‘Late In The Day’ keeps up the languid groove, before, ‘St. Petersburg’, from the band’s fifth record – the Oxford band’s perennially underrated fifth outing, 2005’s Road To Rouen – reminds the assembled that, before they left us five-years-later, this was a band who always possessed a deftness of tone. Who could do a lot.
It’s not a perfect performance; bassist Mick Quinn humbly explains that they haven’t “quite remembered how to do the endings to the songs properly” and fittingly, ‘Richard III’, ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’ and the early-doors-indicator of the band’s brilliance, the manic ‘Strange Ones’, all culminate with the grace of a moody toddler being told to pack their toys away. They will play with better sound systems also; the helium throated harmonies so integral to the band’s sound do, it must be said, occasionally sound like urban foxes fucking. And the set-list does at times mirror the band’s own career; never has a band journeyed from youthful fuzz to introverted balladeering as quickly as Supergrass did. This, children, is the danger of getting into Neil Young too early in life.
But as they break into ‘Alright’, introducing the song as an obscure album track, any teething problems they might have endured prior seem churlish to complain about. Nobody writes songs like this anymore. We’re all too poor. Too angry. Too divided. To consumed by hate, dare we say. And yet still everyone in the room – including Klaxons and Libertines, from Supergrass’ time, members of Shed 7, Salad, Rialto and more – are grinning from ear to ear. ‘Sun Hits The Sky’ follows. Then ‘Lenny’. Then ‘Going Out’. Big, anthemic, bright. Micky and Gaz still look like chimpanzees. Danny a praying mantis with Groucho Marx eyebrows. You wouldn’t know it was 2019 if you didn’t have a tablet in your pocket ready to remind you so.
There are many things Britain needs urgently. Important things. Things that people in suits need to propose and ratify. But tonight, and the glorious return of Supergrass, is a reminder that we need to smile too. They really couldn’t have returned at a better time.
Supergrass’ setlist was:
Caught by the Fuzz
Late in the Day
Pumping on Your Stereo
Sun Hits the Sky