London WC1 Mars Bar
Ah, the first hype of Spring. Find yourself anywhere where music biz types schmooze and carouse away their night-lives over the last six months and chances are the same two-syllable rejoinder would come zinging its way back to you whenever the subject was broached of a new group set to rattle pop’s jewellery. Gomez, so word had it, had the lot: a guitarist who could play guitar, a songwriter who could write ‘classic’ songs and, best of all, a frontman who could sing like the Devil himself. Phew, went the subtext, if things go to plan, it’s going to be like ’75 all over again, again.
And so, half a year after all the burblings began, and with the band duly signed to Hut for a salary Ruud Gullitt wouldn’t find disagreeable, Gomez find themselves landed at an oddly under-attended Mars, facing a roomful of sceptics and a mountain to climb. And, ’tis true, to a degree: they possess a singer in Ben Otterwell armed with a truly alarming voicebox (think Tom Waits gargling Louisiana chilli sauce), a slew of songs which could quite happily live on Chris Evans’ stereo (and, come to think of it, everybody else’s) plus a drummer who could provide rhythm for England.
Equally, at times tonight, particularly during a confident amble through current Beck-u-like single ’78 Stone Wobble’ (twanging bluegrass guitars; brushes; you know) and stand-out track ‘Get Miles’, they own a grizzled authenticity which will have them living comfortably in adult rock mags for months to come. The problem is, judging by this evening’s half-power performance, such pipe’n’slippers conformity in ones so young isn’t so much pleasurable as downright dull. At least Kula Shaker serve up their shameless retro-ism with large dollops of mystic babble thrown in and the pointlessly pilloried Ocean Colour Scene top off their trawls through the history books with some fearsomely self-righteous spunk. Even The Montrose Avenue – their nearest contemporaries and don’t let anyone tell you any different – manage to add a certain vim to their CSN&Young impersonations.
Gomez might want to be Dr John, but tonight they look and act more like a collection of lacklustre medical students. It’s almost as if, daunted by the endless variations of rum’n’bass, lig beat and speed barrage that are mutating around us on a daily basis, a certain quarter of the industry has willed Gomez into being so as to reassure it that in the final reckoning, songwriting dexterity will prevail. Not to mention the fact that the comedown blues in which Gomez dabble is only ever the natural preserve of the true eccentric (Beefheart, Zappa etc) or the burned out, coked-up rock star.
Neither of which, on physical evidence at least, are Gomez. “Chasing you ’round ol’ Meh-hico/Found my way back to San Diego…/Baby where’d you hide?” intones Ben, impossibly, during, erm, ‘Tijuana Lady’, like Gaz Supergrass gone horrible, except younger. Jeez. Never thought it could be said, but tonight Gomez almost make you glad that we’ve got Symposium.