Liz Rhodes

An exploration of musical multiplicity and how (not) to court manly men.



City: Chicago
Venue: Vic Theatre
Date: 2006-05-11

Enhanced by psychedelic sounds and Ben Ottewell's whiskey-drenched voice, Gomez's sophisticated blues-rock has the potential to help them do what so few British rock bands have done in recent memory -- woo America's manly, mainstream men. And sure enough, the craziest fans at the Vic Theatre in the artsy Belmont area of Chicago were athletic-looking guys in their mid-twenties. The pair jumped and screamed louder than anyone. But, then, two such fans do not a successful courtship make. Truth told, about 80 percent of the chairs were full when Gomez took the stage and the faces filling them couldn't have been more different. That's a dangerous position for any band to be in. If audience members feel that they have nothing more in common than the tickets in their hands, an absence of community is felt. And that makes building a solid, devoted fanbase hard. Bands sell identity along with music, and until the public can name typical traits of a Gomez fan, there's nothing for mainstream audiences to latch on to. But then, maybe they're not interested in honing their image, in joining the stadium class. After all, the band's mish-mash of fans is enough to fill 1,200 seats, and that's nothing to sniff at. And they certainly seem to like variety. Ottewell may have stood centerstage with his guitar, but he isn't the bandleader. The band has cultivated three great vocalists (many bands don't even have one) and five songwriters.

multiple songs: MySpace
It's to the band's credit that they haven't become dependent on Ottewell's Eddie Vedder-meets-Tom Waits voice. The policy of "you write it, you sing it" in the musical co-op that is Gomez resulted in the swapping of instruments and lead vocals throughout the night. Vocalist/guitarist Tom Gray was the showman, happily calling out to the audience "Fantastic! This is beautiful! Sing it with me!", and beaming with pride when Ottewell cried out the hook on "Love Is Better Than a Warm Trombone". Skinny Ian Ball who, like Gray, has a more accessible voice than Ottewell's, shyly hunched over his guitar. Bassist Paul Blackburn and drummer Olly Peacock faced each other at the back of the stage -- a sign of a skilled, unified rhythm section. That's how you get Gomez's deep, right in the pocket, groove. The setlist spanned from 1998's Mercury Music Prize-winning album Bring It On to their latest release, May 2006's How We Operate. Songs from Bring It On, including closing number "Whippin' Piccadilly", earned the strongest reactions from the crowd. Many casual listeners probably lost interest in the band when they released the stagnant, somewhat disappointing sophomore album in 1999. That's not to say Liquid Skin doesn't have any great tracks -- the performances of "Fill My Cup" and "Devil Will Ride" were bursting with raw energy. Fast forward through a dub-influenced album and a back-to-basics rock album to How We Operate, and you'll see that the band has reached a new level of accessibility. Sales of the first four albums never met Virgin's expectations, and last year, after considering throwing in the towel, Gomez decided to start again with Dave Matthews' ATO label. The band hired an outside producer to clean up their sound. Gil Norton, who has worked with the Pixies, Counting Crows, and others, was assigned the job. Almost all the blues are gone from the new music, replaced by increasingly accessible, sophisticated songs such as the Beatles-esque "Woman! Man!" So far, critics have embraced the album, but fans are still screaming for material that's eight years old. The obnoxious song requests -- it's called a setlist, people, and Gomez clearly follow one -- were not the only noise violations that night. The volume was too freaking loud for the small theatre. (I know more than one person is going to call me an old granny for saying so, but it's true.) When the piercing squeaks and high-pitched audio fuzz of a soundsystem in peril nearly drown out the band, particularly the vocals, things have gone too far. Minus sound snafus, there's more than enough talent in Gomez to justify huge artistic and commercial success. Unfortunately, they have yet to achieve the latter in America -- at least not in the way that they might. Time will tell if the band's cleaner sound will cause a single, unified audience to emerge. But, for now, fans of all types remain deeply attached to the band. And, all things considered, maybe that's not such a bad thing. After all, who wants to sit in a room with thousands of screaming guys in their mid-20s? Not me.

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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