Gomez are the guys living in the apartment below you. The ones who order take-out every night. The ones you borrow music from. You comb through their CD collections for groups with names you’ve never heard of. Gomez are musical scavengers who have found a use for just about every musical style you can think of, from American delta swamp blues to a preprogrammed electronic version of the Memphis Horns. Maybe that’s why they made their stage entrance at Friday night’s Fillmore show to a recorded version of Kenny Loggins’ ‘80s (I can’t believe I’m using this word) classic “Footloose”.
11 Oct 2002: The Fillmore San Francisco
For a group of scavengers, Gomez carried with them a supreme helping of self-confidence. There were no elaborate costumes. No messy haircuts or ripped jeans. But the audience boiled with anticipation of the set’s first notes; they were ready to go to war with these guys. Looking around, I remember feeling slightly nervous before the music started playing. This was a crowd of people that desperately needed an outlet for its collective energy, and Kenny Loggins just wasn’t going to cut it. Thankfully, the six band members quickly picked up their instruments, offered an enthusiastic “Hello”, and launched into “Shot Shot”, the first track off their latest album, In Our Gun. The song was a torrential downpour that soaked us all with the aforementioned throbbing electronic horns and a strutting bass line. This was just the release we were looking for, which helps to explain the torrent of debris that rained down on the stage, including flowers, bras and a series of enamored, intoxicated fans.
Happy to have found our brothers-in-arms, we danced amongst the empty glass bottles that skated around the Fillmore’s forty-year-old wooden floor, and negotiated the teeming backwards baseball hats and flailing arms. The boards below us bounced under our collective weight, rhythmically rising and falling like a ship at sea, propelling the swarm higher and lower. Gomez wasted no time, downshifting directly into “Rex Kramer”, which follows “Shot Shot” on In Our Gun, and kept the party going. It was only after the crowd had gotten its proper fix that one of the group’s three lead singers, a beaming Tom Gray, stepped to the very edge of the stage and welcomed us properly to the show. He paused a moment, grinning as he took in every face in the hall. His sheer joy was transparent—the man was practically glowing—and it was difficult to guess which side of the stage was happier to be there that night.
All things considered, Gomez is something of a three-headed monster. With a trio of lead singers dividing the spotlight, a clash of egos would seem inevitable. But Ian Ball, Tom Gray and Ben Ottewell share lead vocals and guitar duties easily, their varying styles complementing one another like the old friends they are. Not only are the members of the band remarkably adept at not biting one another’s heads off, they play without compromise. It helps too that each has such a distinctive voice. Ottewell’s is the most well-known, his growling howl more Eddie Vedder than Eddie himself, while Ball’s voice is both softer and friskier. Gray lends a childlike energy to the band (I think half of the audience at the Fillmore show wanted to open him up in a gift-wrapped box on Christmas morning). Meanwhile, Paul Blackburn, who knocks out bass lines in as many styles as you like, doesn’t have a microphone. But I’m guessing he can sing. Gomez don’t look like rock stars—well, maybe drummer Olly Peacock, who resembles a Deer Hunter-era Christopher Walken with his unblinking, maniacal expression, is the exception to this rule—they look like they just rolled out of bed.
As the legend goes, the long-time friends from Southport, England formed in 1996 and soon began playing at small clubs near Sheffield University. A friend named Gomez was supposed to watch them at an early show, so they put up a sign to attract his attention: “Gomez here”. Whether their friend made it to the show or not has long since been forgotten, but the name hasn’t. They’ve been known as Gomez ever since.
That evening Gomez had plenty of friends, as they went on to play a balance of material from their three LPs, and a few B-sides as well. Microphones rotated from one side of the stage to the other, while a rack of guitars was picked and chosen from on nearly every number. The only snags came from their uncooperative samplers, which worked only intermittently throughout the show. This didn’t stop Ball from pumping out the hand-clapper “Las Vegas Dealer”, or the dreamy folk tale “In Our Gun”, where all members of the band gelled into a cohesive stage presence. Ben Ottewell wrung himself out in measured blues for “Even Song” off In Our Gun, with the rest of the band in perfect synchronicity. Ian Ball, who followed him step for step on his guitar, stepped back from his stage right perch, head cocked down, staring as if in a momentary daze and mouthed the word “wow”, more to himself than the crowd. The band nailed it, they were cooking. They effortlessly hopped from one flavor to the next, they could do no wrong.
Tom Gray stepped to the middle of the stage to sing the mesmerizing, “Sound of Sounds”. The tune is a dreamy love song to music itself, and sums up the group in many ways. Ben Ottewell’s powerful voice combined with Gray’s to fill in the chorus. Meanwhile, Ian Ball sat hunched over and cross-legged as he played along on guitar. The exuberant Gray couldn’t stay in dreamland for long, though, and before he could help himself, he was leading the entire audience in a version of “Gonna Get Myself Arrested” off their debut album, Bring It On. He assumed we would all know the words; he was right.
Olly Peacock’s drum kit wove in and out of preprogrammed synthetic beats as Ben Ottewell began the slow process of building “Revolutionary Kind” off of Liquid Skin to end the set. Ottewell forgot about the audience and hypnotized us at the same time. Tom Gray and Ian Ball buttressed the song from stage left and stage right with their psychedelic guitar work. All three front men closed their eyes and projected their energy inward, as the lighting technician earned his keep by projecting a fluttering sea of blue fireflies on the walls. “Revolutionary Kind” subtly evolved into an extended “Hangover Girl” that might have lasted for fifteen minutes, though really it was hard to tell. It caught me off guard that they had such developed improvisational skills; I couldn’t help but think of other jam bands like Phish or the Grateful Dead. They fed off one another, and left us with our jaws hanging.
After the obligatory stage exit, Ball returned by himself to sing “Army Dub” over a preprogrammed electronic backdrop that was, for once in the show, cooperative. After, his band mates joined him and together they offered crowd pleasers like “Free to Run” and “We Haven’t Turned Around”. The show ended with the happy-go-lucky “Day in Manchester”. The band left the stage, and we all streamed out of the hall and down the stairs to Folsom Street into waiting buses and taxis. More than a few stayed to find out about tickets to the next night’s show.
// Notes from the Road
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