Supergrass both outlasted its Britpop peers — by the time it packed it in in 2010, the band had stuck it out long enough that groups like Blur and Suede had not only split up but were already reuniting — and never quite matched the success of its buzzier cohorts. So when frontman Gaz Coombes came to Berklee’s David Friend Recital Hall on Saturday, it was as a performer with a long history as well as a clean slate. Although the tickets listed “(Of Supergrass)” after his name, it was purely as identification, not description.
Coombes took his billing as a solo act seriously. He brought no other musicians with him, stripping a lot of the flourishes found on his recent album “Matador” to the bone. But it was rarely simply him and a guitar or piano; nearly every song featured some sort of accompaniment, from the triggered beat of “Seven Walls” and sequenced boops of “20/20” to the low, feedback-like whistle running through “Hot Fruit” and “One of These Days” like a subliminal undercurrent. In the case of “Detroit,” he looped his opening acoustic-guitar lead and then continued to layer parts as the song progressed and gained mass.
The tenor of the performance matched the arrangements and the room itself, small enough that one audience member felt emboldened to engage a surprised but amused Coombes with queries about his noisemaking devices. Even when the singer loosed a full-throated yelp, as in “Detroit” and “Needle’s Eye,” he still projected an air of intimacy, something aided by his habit of focusing on the bottom half of his instruments. His busy, relentless strumming on “One of These Days” and “20/20” landed largely on the heaviest strings of his guitar. For “Seven Walls” and the terrific “Buffalo,” sticking entirely to the lower keys of his piano meant that even the highest pinging notes carried a rich, weighty sadness to them.
Coombes reached back to his Supergrass days for just two songs, one of which was a Billy Bragg-style electric bash-through of the punky “Caught By the Fuzz.” But the other, the swirling carnival of “Moving,” put the lie to the argument that he never tackled this type of material until he set out on his own. The songs might not have been Supergrass, but they weren’t not Coombes.
Kansas-City-by-way-of-London opener Piney Gir sang with a flat Midwestern cheerfulness that added a small dollop of charm to her twee-pop songs.
With Piney Gir. At David Friend Recital Hall, SaturdayMarc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.