Tonight, Gomez played through a 20-song set, containing tracks from every one of their six studio albums, plus plenty of new material from A New Tide, released earlier this year. Continuing the refinement and progression the band has made over the years from rough-hewn college rock to tightly structured, mature alternative rock, the new record still harkens back to the band’s debut album, Bring It On.
Watching the humbly dressed musicians of Gomez amble on stage is akin to witnessing Geek Squad agents climb out of their Minis with the elegant Geek Squad decals on the side. I’d venture that the agents set upon fixing computers with the same level of glee and vigor that Gomez worked through their well-rehearsed, professional routine. Touring, it seems, affords the five Englishmen an opportunity to work side-by-side, a circumstance that is complicated by the fact that the band mates all live in different countries and/or cities. Yet despite touring for the better part of 12 years, they still appear to thoroughly enjoy being on stage together. Each band member wore a broad grin and obvious delight in playing music with their mates, to their mates, and for their mates.
An audience made up in equal parts hipster, middle-aged music fan, and regular everyday people made this feel like a Dave Matthews’ show minus the screaming teens. On stage: Weathered musicians, plenty of horn, double-time percussion, extravagant lead, rhythm, and bass guitar. The result: A versatility of sound ranging from bluesy roots jam band to pop, alt-rock, and crooning balladry, with a large catalogue of songs offering entertainment and enjoyment as much as innovation. That’s the broad-ranging essence of Gomez, which can be attributed to its three frontmen.
Though all five band members contribute to the writing of tracks, the three vocalists each offer a different sound that helps to drive a live show through multiple musical genres without appearing disconnected. Most recognizable is Ben Ottewell’s throaty growl—sometimes compared to Joe Cocker—which accompanies his deep Southern-tinged blues guitar. A number of solo shows in 2008 have helped Ottewell add an additional layer of power and confidence to his vocal. Ian Ball, who appears to have taken a stronger role in the development of the latest album, provides reference to folk-rock, while Tom Gray contributes the more romantic pop elements of recent albums.
Gomez’s live sound is defined by an enjoyable, warm performance, with rhythm-and-bluesy alt-rock songs that eek out a happy, unchallenged, and comfortable existence. Songs wind tightly around a strong, original structure, while the inclusion of more varied improvised elements add richness to the layered studio sounds. Live tracks are garnished with longer guitar solos, electric swapped for acoustic instruments, extended jazz percussion fills from Olly Peacock on the drums and harmonies are sung with smiles the audience can actually see.
Don’t get me wrong, a Gomez show is much more than a moderate collection of popular tracks coupled with newer material from a recent album played acoustically. North American audiences hear a different set each night, as if the band truly enjoys playing and getting together again, retelling old tales through song. The only difference between European and North American setlists appear to be the obvious addition of tracks that reference British adolescence, such as “Whippin’ Piccadilly” for Europe, and in North America, the inclusion of a greater number of tracks from the new album.
The triumvirate frontmen’s live performance works best with Ottewell’s driven rhythm guitar and resolute gruff vocal, Ball’s vocals with acoustic guitar, and Gray’s garnishing with electric lead, played over Peakcock’s jazz percussion. This was best exemplified midway through tonight’s show. American single “Airstream Driver” was preceded by two Gomez signatures: 1999’s “Rhythm & Blues Alibi” and the more obscure track “Waster”, a b-side from 2000’s “Machismo”.
The encore of “Revolutionary Kind”, “Win Park Slope”, and finally “How We Operate” reinforce how live performance can add quality to such a wide catalog of music spread across multiple albums, yet the binding element throughout is Gomez’s pleasure in performance. Tonight, we witnessed a tight professional recital from a group of musicians that obviously enjoy touring with a spirit of carefree affection for their music and each other. If only more touring artists realized that music is entertainment, that it’s fun, and that it doesn’t have to be a job.