Something old, something blue, something borrowed, but nothing new. If you don't know Gomez then this live double album was meant for you.
Not everything on Merseyside goes from zero to hero in the space of a 10-minute frenzy. But then, not everyone has a manager like Raphaël Benitez to change things around at halftime. However, just like Liverpool FC's recent performances, Gomez's latest release stands testament to an enigma. Some may want to call this a career-spanning live recording; others a "best of" cop-out. So why release a live double album at this particular moment in time?
One of the golden rules of music fandom is that you buy the Mercury-Prize-winning album every year. And this regardless of the minor glitches. Yes, M People included. Bring It On won Gomez the award in 1998 -- they had been together for just two years. But regardless of the pressure this may heap on a fledgling band, they took the time to "try out stuff". As it was they had already stepped away from the easy choice of taking the Britpop/Britrock cash-train, last stop: Cool Britannia. Symptomatic of the band's brand of grinding blues-rock, Ben Ottewell's rasping vocals offered something different. Then they threw in a bit of psychedelia and Bob was your monkey's hard-soft-psychedelic-swamp-blues-folksy-balladeering pop-rocker. In a nutshell.
It might be ballsy at a time when record companies prefer throwaway to apprenticeship, but "trying out stuff" does mean that a Gomez album doesn't always give you value for money. Four studio albums down the road (plus a compilation of miscellanea), and Gomez are still on the up and gigging hard all over the place to increase their non-UK fan-base. It has to be said that if anything, the 20 tracks on this live recording demonstrate that a Gomez concert DOES give you value for money. And these aren't three-minute-thrashers -- "Here Comes the Breeze" clocks in at just under nine minutes and there's over 11 minutes of "Revolutionary Kind".
I suppose the official line is that these two discs will allow fans to relish the live Gomez experience in the comforts of their own home. But there's the definite smell of an 'introduction' about this recording (surely it's too early for a retrospective from a serious band). And for the moment, it seems that Out West will only be made available as an import in Europe. Hey all you overseas' punters, here's Gomez in their favourite environment doing some of their most favoured songs, now go out and buy. Sorry, I'm being cynical, but there's not even one new track to keep us guessing except for a couple of covers: an enjoyable rendition of Nick Drake's "Black Eyed Dog" and an almost exact copy of the satirical "Going Out West" by Tom Waits.
The boys themselves definitely seem to be happy peddling their goods stateside. This amalgamation of three sell-out concerts from last January kicks off with a cheesy "Good Evening San Francisco". Except that these gigs were at the Fillmore which can hold just over a thousand people. Nowadays you might be able to get away with that kind of line at a stadium bash or the suchlike, but it sounds a bit feeble here. Let's hope it was meant to be ironic. Let's hope the "Come on San Francisco let me see you move now" was meant to be ironic too. Oh, and the "Thank you San Francisco". And it's almost as if, after the Waits-line "Going out west where they'll appreciate me", we can hear a "Please San Francisco".
But minor gripes aside, this is a good collection of tracks even if the quality of the live-spin isn't quite consistent. This isn't helped by the production. The crowd is too muted for my taste, and the music can sound a bit tinny. "Bring It On" is a good example of this problem. And because of this, the songs that work best are those where Ottewell is doing his more toned down Eddie Vedder impression rather than barking at us. I'm especially thinking here of the "Black Eyed Dog/Free to Run" medley.
But the most successful tracks are those where Gomez use their unusual three-way lead vocal rotation system. "Fill My Cup" is particularly satisfying here: a bit of close harmony giving the verse a folksy feel till the chorus kicks in with a progrock twist. Though I have to say, if we imagine keyboards instead of guitars then we'd have ourselves Supertramp!
The real shame of this recording is that the mainstays come across as pretty uninspiring. "Get Miles", "Get Myself Arrested", and "Whippin' Piccadilly" all lack the Gomez stage explosiveness. "Revolutionary Kind" only just passes muster. At least they leave "Sweet Virginia" alone. In fact, they leave it off the album all together.
But now get ready for the big turnaround.
Perhaps Gomez do have a Benitez-type figure in the background, because this recording does kick off in part two. Most of the highlights appear on the second disc. These include: "Do's and Don'ts", "Ping One Down", "Make No Sound", and an amazing funkadelic version of "Blue Moon Rising". And it's this disc that I will go back to the more often. This also means that as things come to a head Gomez wins out. Perhaps the lads in marketing got this one right: if you want somewhere to start then you won't go far wrong with this release. It's just not meant for those of us who were around in 1998.