If The Band had been born thirty years later, and were from Southport, they’d be called Gomez. Stay with me here…
Not only is there a rootsy vibe going on in both bands, but they both feature multiple vocalists and occasionally swap instruments. The biggest difference, apart from time itself, is their nationality. The Band are Americana incarnate whereas Gomez couldn’t be more English. Members of The Band have strange North American names like Levon and Garth, while Gomez have middle-class English names like Tom, Ben and Olly.
I first saw Gomez when they were touring second album Liquid Skin, on the Other Stage at Glastonbury 1999. Last week, twenty years later, I finally saw them for the second time. They played at Auckland’s fantastic Powerstation, as part of their Liquid Skin 20th Anniversary tour, a full seven years after the last time they graced our shores. I missed the 2012 show for some reason, but really glad I caught this one: a full play-through of their 1998 debut Bring It On, followed by a full performance of Liquid Skin.
I’m glad to report the years have been kind. When I first saw them, I was as curious as everyone else at the voice of guitarist Ben Ottewell. In 1999, he was just a podgy twenty-something with a much bigger voice than himself. He’s now grown into his vocal chords, a genial bear of a man. Performing live, he was dependant on too much reverb, but you could still hear the magic in his soulful voice. It reminded me a bit of Simon Fowler from Ocean Colour Scene, another band I recently saw at the same venue.
The rest of the band were exactly the same as I remember them from ’99. The genial Tom Gray (vocals / guitar / keyboards) talked the most to the audience. Twenty years ago I remember him telling the Glastonbury crowd to turn around a look at the sunset. He hasn’t changed a bit. Neither has the other guitarist / vocalist Ian Ball. Still as scrawny as he was all those years ago, he’s the most cocky and aloof of the three frontmen. Drummer Olly Peacock hasn’t aged a day, and the only real casualty of the band is the hairline of bassist Paul Blackburn, now fully shaved.
Given the type of material of the three songwriters, it is Ball’s songs that seem the most normal – straightforward post-Oasis Britpop that you would hear in any band (including my own) from that time around the late ‘90s. It’s the mixture of Ottewell’s southern-fried soul and Gray’s jazzy melodies that gives Gomez their unique sound. If anything, it feels like Ball is the lucky one of the three, for finding other songwriters that would provide an interesting counterbalance to the ordinariness of his own material.
After they played through both albums, they returned to the stage for just one song – a frantic, AC/DC-inspired version of Whippin’ Picadilly, played ‘like we did when we were teenagers.’ A magical night, for sure, and I still made it home to watch the All Blacks beat Wales to take bronze in the World Cup.
I’m serious about the comparison to The Band though. And of all the Band’s LPs, studio album number five, Moondog Matinee, is perhaps the most Gomez-ey. It’s one of the more kookier entries in the Band’s back catalogue, and finds them recording an entire album’s worth of cover songs.
The original idea was to replicate their mid-‘60s setlists, when they were known as Levon & The Hawks, but only one song – Share Your Love (With Me) – from this period appears. It sounds like a happy album, but the reality was a band starting to come apart at the seams. ‘That was all we could do at the time,’ Levon Helm later explained. ‘We couldn’t get along; we all knew that fairness was a bunch of shit. We all knew we were getting screwed, so we couldn’t sit down and create no more music. Up on Cripple Creek and all that stuff was over—all that collaboration was over, and that type of song was all we could do.’
Hit: Ain’t Got No Home
Hidden Gem: Mystery Train