The Hot Rats have been several years in the making. After bassist Mick Quinn’s sudden, serious and frankly bizarre injury prior to the release of 2008’s Diamond Hoo Ha Man, Supergrass duo Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey quickly relabelled themselves The Diamond Hoo Ha Men and continued on their merry way. They toured in small venues whenever possible, often unannounced, playing covers, new songs and the pair did their best to avoid playing any older Supergrass material. But these shows were short lived. After finishing their tour of the US, Supergrass left their EMI label due to ‘funding issues’ and the band, financially unstable, went into hibernation. Skip forward a year and along with “legendary producer bloke”, Nigel Godrich, Gaz and Dan began working on their new project, the Zappa inspired Hot Rats. In a nutshell, this is two-thirds of Supergrass playing covers. It’s more exciting than it sounds.
Taking to the Academy Stage a half an hour later than scheduled, the Oxford duo waste little time before they launch into Gang Of Four’s ‘Damaged Goods’. An electric guitar and a drumkit is all the pair have to work with, and it is clear there will be many similarities drawn between themselves and The White Stripes. Dan can drum though, it must be noted. It’s a shaky start to the night; musically ‘Damaged Goods’ is pretty standard and the audience, for the mostpart, seem unversed in their Post Punk bands from Leeds. However, The Doors’ ‘Crystal Ship’ is contrastingly more appealing and aurally complex. Gaz’s crisp yelp and guitar showmanship (tuning it midsong) are impressive – there is no need for other band members when one man can make a guitar sound so thick alone. His cheeky grins and quips about Arthur’s Day – and moreso the morning after it – are entertaining and give off the vibe of that of a relaxed man. After inquiring as to whether their name is fitting, a teddy-rat is thrown on stage and he bursts out laughing. “For fuck sake, we’re not even a real band and you’re giving us presents. Amazing.”
An innovative take on Beastie Boys ‘Fight For Your Right (To Party)’ is interesting, but somewhat indulgent. The vocal phrasings are tinkered beyond recognition and the song does not lend itself well to Gaz’s guitar style. Granted, it is a brave attempt at something less by the book, but it is the less thought out renditions that seem the more fitting for the occasion. ‘Lovecats’ is sublime, particularly given the lack of a bass in this essentially baritone driven jazzy Cure track. And with some exemplary drumming and perfect, harmonising backing vocals on show here, Goffey leads the crowd into the joyous chorus of ‘bop-a-dah’s. Bowie (‘Queen Bitch’), Elvis Costello (‘Pump It Up’) and The Beat (‘Mirror In The Bathroom’) all get a Hot Rats makeover elsewhere during the forty-five minute show, but while all are enjoyable and highly polished, they fail to leave any lasting impressions. The Sex Pistols are recalled for the fitting ‘EMI’. This less than subtle attack on their former label is more melodic and noticeably faster-paced than Rotten’s original, even if the sentiment remains the same. “That was good” notes Gaz. He wasn’t wrong.
One of the highlights of the night is a glorious reworking of Roxy Music’s ‘Love is the Drug’. This power-chord drenched, yet funk infused take on Bryan Ferry’s finest moment, is gloriously absorbing. Where the original plodded along content in itself without being anything overly special, here it is transformed into a dark, gritty ballad with the narcotics taking centre stage. As the night wraps up, the setlist is torn apart and the planned ‘Drive My Car’ is abandoned. “Let’s have some Supergrass. I love those guys”, jokes Coombes. And after a brief consultation with Dan – ignoring the calls from the front row for ‘Alright’ and ‘Pumping on Your Stereo’, – the pair decide on their last big hit, ‘Diamond Hoo Ha Man’. It’s a great choice to end the night upon, and perhaps the easiest to pull off without any other musical contributions. It does remind that these two are more than capable of penning their own classics and that arguably, in their current form they have abandoned a winning formula in favour of a sybaritic pleasure. Granted they’re not a replacement, but rather something to fill the void until Supergrass’ creative juices get flowing, yet still it all seems a bit unnecessary and unimportant.
They are not a real band and they’re not even claiming otherwise. It wouldn’t take a genius to realise that when you take these songs out of the live setting – and along with them the pair’s charm, wit and presence – the forthcoming LP could be a disaster. As the house lights fill the stage, the main man himself almost concedes this himself: “I’m sure we’ll be back, Dublin. Maybe not in this form, but we’ll see you again Ireland.”