Supergrass – ‘Santagrass Xmas Party’
Live @ The Regal, Oxford
December 18, 2009
Review & Photography: Steve Bateman

Promoted as the ‘Santagrass Xmas Party’ and compassionately supporting the local homeless charity, Oxford Sleep-Out. What has since gone onto become Supergrass’ traditional Oxford homecoming Christmas show at the opulent 1950’s art-deco theatre, The Regal, is the perfect winter warmer, providing fans with an early present in the run-up to the festive season! Having been fortunate enough to interview Gaz and Danny as The Hot Rats in October, I was now more than ready for my Supergrass fix, so on a very chilly evening (with snow in some parts of the UK), I wrapped-up warm and headed to Oxford with my friends.

With limited edition ‘Santagrass’ commemorative merchandise available to buy and even mulled-wine being served, the sold out 1,000 capacity venue has a lovely cosy atmosphere, as everyone’s here for a good time – and with any Supergrass gig, you’re guaranteed to have a first class evening! Combined with a specially chosen set list – the icing on the Christmas cake if you will – what more could you ask for? Keeping it in the family, support comes from Gaz’s younger brother’s band (who is also a touring member of Supergrass), Charly Coombes & The New Breed – a soulful rock ‘n’ roll combo, whose sound is driven by Coombes’ uncooked voice and nimble keyboard playing. Resembling Gaz, both facially and vocally, Charly’s group are well-received and are the ideal compliment to tonight’s headliners.

After the roadies have completed their tasks and mics / monitors been thoroughly checked, at 9pm, the stage – which is adorned with Christmas trees, decorations and a Supergrass backdrop – is ready for Gaz, Danny, Mick, Rob and Charly to entertain us! As the lights dip, the cheers go up, and everyone (wearing Christmas colours) takes their positions. “Good Evening Oxford,” beams a starry-eyed / pork chop sideburned Gaz, before the band rocket into a scorching Sun Hits The Sky. Ironically, the venue itself is freezing cold, so when Gaz sings: “I am a doctor, I’ll be your doctor, I’m on my way, you won't come down today,” you pray that the group will be able to prescribe some sort of heat to The Regal with their music. Which by the time the track has reached its crescendo, thanks to Mick’s rumbling / looping bass outro + Gaz standing on the edge of the stage and raising his arms up to the audience – like chestnuts roasting on an open fire, does seem to miraculously materialise!

Rough and ready versions of Diamond Hoo Ha Man and Bad Blood, from Supergrass’ last LP, are then paired together, bursting at the seams and confidently strutting around before one of the standout tracks from I Should Coco, She’s So Loose. As Gaz delivers the couplet: “Take my love away, it’s never gonna work for you…” with his usual gusto, a mighty fine ripped guitar solo gives the song an extra-added spark! In fact, I must give kudos to every member of the band, who are all masters of their respective instruments. The hours of practise they must have put in over the years has really paid-off, as like a well-oiled machine, each song sounds tight, spot on and alive – but never sterile, as there are plenty of embellishments hidden in the folds of every track as well! Following the spooky Mary, Gaz says: “We’ve been buried in the studio making our new album for the past few months, but we’ve managed to learn a new song for you.” As an appetiser, Hip Replacement, seems almost calypso / percussive in places and although this is the first time that anybody has heard it, it goes down particularly well with the crowd and bodes well for future new material, which is due in Spring 2010. “Thank You” smiles Gaz, in recognition of our applause.

Along with Mick and Charly’s harmonies, Rebel In You, contains lots of the musical ingredients commonly associated with Supergrass, who have an uncanny knack for producing songs that sound as though they have been filtered through a kaleidoscope (albeit with frequent dark twists and an offbeat sense of humour). With catchy bubblegum pop hooks, a majestic melody and naggingly infectious riffs, the line: “Can’t save the rebel in you, hands down you’re beautiful,” demands that you sing along! Structurally, Moving is one of the group’s cleverest compositions and is a real corker to boot, receiving a huge pop from the audience. Beginning gently with Gaz crooning: “Moving, just keep moving, ‘til I don’t know what’s sane, I’ve been moving so long, the days all feel the same.” The track soon explodes into life with its lugubrious and bombarding chorus: “Got a low, low feeling around me and a stone cold feeling inside, and I just can’t stop messing my mind up, or wasting my time,” which the crowd near the front deliriously bounce up-and-down to, much to Supergrass’ delight! Joined at the heart and playing to their strengths, it’s also worth noting, that the band intelligently juxtapose radio-friendly songs with refreshing, adventurous, detailed, fractal and vertiginous experimental moments like this too, which given a little time, will ripen and fully open-up by unfurling more and more new sounds. They are scholars of rock history after all!

Taking on lead vocal duties for Ghost Of A Friend, drummer Danny shows that he is an able singer in his own right, having somewhat of a Bob Dylan-esque voice – also backed-up by Gaz and signifying their unbreakable friendship. The “Whooh, ooh, oohs” and “Ahh, ahhs,” at the end of the song are very much a hallmark of the group’s tunes as well. Next up, is a very, very unexpected surprise, as it’s a track that is rarely performed live nowadays. As Gaz’s older brother Rob pounds at his piano, that unforgettable intro results in the loudest cheers of the night – it is of course, the band’s breakthrough single, the irrepressible whippersnapper anthem and chirpy Britpop classic, Alright. Complete with its carefree feel-good vibe: “We are young, we run green, keep our teeth nice and clean, see our friends, see the sights, feel alright. We wake up, we go out, smoke a fag, put it out, see our friends, see the sights, feel alright” + Gaz’s wavy Hawaiian guitar solo, it’s the ultimate crowd-pleaser! Afterwards, he jokes: “It’s been a while,” which for true fans, makes it even more special!

In contrast, the lush / freewheeling psychedelic folk of St. Petersburg, is understated, reflective, autumnal, elegant and really rather gorgeous. Before a glam Brecon Beacons/Outside and the shuffling / reclining Time, exposes in just a few songs, how – as I’ve previously mentioned – the band have been able to proficiently adapt their sonic palette, moods and styles throughout their career. With flashing white strobe lights and numerous pints of lager being hurled into the air by punters, the rocking Richard III (taken from my favourite Supergrass record, In It For The Money), sees Gaz mercilessly singing: “Tryin’ to get at you, tryin’ to get at you,” atop the debris caused by a whirlpool of organs, bass, drums and yet another stirling megawatt guitar solo, which has Gaz constantly stamping at his mound of foot pedals. Funnily, during his solo, a drunken audience member turns to me and my friends to show off his Air Guitar skills – it’s hard not to laugh at how seriously he’s taking himself, but we bite our lips and mange to contain ourselves. It is Christmas after all! ; )

After asking for the houselights to be turned on, so that he can survey his surroundings and see everybody, including those seated up in the balcony. Gaz – who enjoys a bit of banter and connecting with the crowd – reveals: “This next song, is actually about a little incident that happened just a couple of hundred yards down the road,” before the storming / punky aural attack (and Supergrass’ debut single in 1994), Caught By The Fuzz. Perfectly encapsulating the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and the invincibility of youth, this semi-autobiographical track is an anecdote set to music about being caught by the police for smoking cannabis: “Locked in the cell, feeling unwell, I talked to a man, he said it’s better to tell, ‘Who sold you the blow?’ Well, it was no-one I know.” The spontaneous, stop-and-start middle section of the track is a nice touch too! Rounding things out for the main set, Supergrass once again delve into their first album and play a ramshackle, Strange Ones.

For the encore, Santa Claus and a couple of his attractive female little helpers (obviously enjoying a night out before an extremely busy Christmas Eve), join the group onstage. As Supergrass cover Tommie Connor’s I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Santa jigs around and ho ho ho’s, while his elves pull hundreds of bags of sweets ‘n’ treats out of their bulging sacks and throw them into the clamouring audience! Then, for the finale (augmented by the rest of Charly’s band, The New Breed), they perform a robust and punchy version of Pumping On Your Stereo. With its “Life is a cigarette, you smoke to the end” lyric, tonight, most people seem to have taken the ‘life is short, so let’s enjoy ourselves’ attitude to living and put on their dancing shoes. Which along with an endless amount of ticker-tape being shot into the crowd, makes for a downright brilliant and very memorable end to the show.

After 18 songs and successfully getting people into the festive spirit, Supergrass wish everyone “A Very Merry Christmas,” setting us all up for a Super Yule!

A very special thanks to Pippa @ Courtyard Management, for all of her time and help.

Oxford Set List

Sun Hits The Sky
Diamond Hoo Ha Man
Bad Blood
She’s So Loose
Hip Replacement
Rebel In You
Ghost Of A Friend
St. Petersburg
Brecon Beacons/Outside
Richard III
Caught By The Fuzz
Strange Ones
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I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Pumping On Your Stereo

“Merry Xmas From Santagrass”