This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, October 2006.
“We’re baaaaaaaaaack! How many of yer were here last night? How many of yer are coming back tomorrow?”
It was nearly impossible to figure out who was happiest: Gomez or their paying customers. On the second of three sold out nights at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, the veteran British five-piece emerged downright ebullient. Especially keyboardist- vocalist-guitarist Tom Gray, who simply could not wipe a Cheshire Cat grin off his face, nor stop playfully goading his extended family of fans. Attired no different than their faithful in t-shirts, sneakers, and worn jeans, Gomez’ extended residency exuded a frat party atmosphere.
Opening with a rambunctious reading of their sunny folk rock anthem “California,” Gomez immediately settled into a comfortable groove which characterized the evening. “Hopefully we can continually reinvent our songs” opines Gray. “It tends to happen over a long cycle. Some songs have managed to change year in and year out and are eternally part of our set. Although, we do love to pull out an obscure tune we haven’t played for several years just to see if we can get a feel for it again.”
Upon their debut in the latter stages of the 1990s Brit-pop explosion, Gomez distinguished themselves not only by the fact that they had three singers and four songwriters in their potent line-up, but they steered clear of the Beatles worship (Oasis, Verve) that made much of the decade seem like a pleasant, albeit re-cycled, rock ‘n’ roll affair. Based in blues, acoustic rock, experimental and old school busking, Gomez have carved out a cult niche, however the band’s record sales have yet to match their critical acclaim.
This year, with a new imprint (ATO), new producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters), and a strong new record of well-crafted pop tunes entitled How We Operate, Gomez appear primed to stay in the game for as long as they wish. Fresh off an appearance on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, the band’s current trek across North America is a hot ticket. Nearly all the gigs are sold out. “We never practice to speak of,” notes Gray. “We’ll do a rehearsal before taking a new record on the road, but after that we just wing it. I don’t feel that our music ultimately benefits from being over-worked. The naivety gets sucked out and everything can become affected.”
Though Ben Ottewell’s raspy vocals – most familiar to the masses by way of the band’s cover of the Beatles’ “Fixing A Hole” in the Phillips Electronics commercial in 1998 - is Gomez’ most identifiable recorded moment - Gray and guitarist Ian Ball’s harmonies and leads are pleasantly unpredictable. Ian’s solo break on “Charley Patton Songs” and an off-the-cuff rendition of the blues warhorse standard “Baby Please Don’t Go,” which collapsed after two verses, were among the many enjoyable surprises.
With ten years worth of albums and touring under their belt, cat-calls for Gomez tunes went unabated. Gray is continually amused. “There is a daft out-take on Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline entitled ‘Shitbag.’ It’s absolute nonsense, but once and awhile, a voice, usually male, will cry out ‘shit---bag!’ Whether that’s for personal amusement or out of a genuine wish to hear the song, I cannot say.”
The title track to their latest collection featured intricate guitar play between Ball, Gray and Ottewell as the latter’s staccato lead vocal stopped and started on the verses in absolute sync with bassist Paul Blackburn and drummer Olly Peacock’s funky rhythms. Peacock’s jazzy brushed snare on “Notice” along with Blackburn’s reggae lines showed the band to be growing even more dexterous and diverse as they approach middle age.
Akin to a grizzled uncle affording advice to the younger generation, the band’s foot-stomping reading of “See The World” came off as well-intentioned mirror of their own life experiences. “Scouting for good restaurants” are among Gomez’ many off-stage on-the-road diversions revealed Gray. “And playing ukulele…or watching downloaded UK television comedy. As for their fans’ continued devotion, nothing surprises Gray, who has seen almost everything imaginable from the stage. “Fighting, getting naked, pissing …occasionally, all at the same time!”