Has Gomez finally hit their stride or are they on a downward slide? Their former label, Hut Records diappeared, leaving their album, Split the Difference in marketing limbo. The band’s first two albums, the Mercury Prize winning debut Bring It On and the successful sophomore effort, Liquid Skin, were fan and critic favorites, but they have never quite reached the acclaim of those first two since. In Our Gun was their Kid A, strange and off-putting to the hardcore fans, new and innovative to others. Split the Difference was a return to form, but as noted, was mishandled by the label. But Gomez has long been known as being a much better and dynamic live band than they are in the studio. Live albums are a mixed bag, however. They can be brilliant documents of a band in their element, or they can be throwaway obligations to a record company. Count Gomez’s Out West among the former.
ATO, otherwise known as Dave Matthews’ label, is the one that ended up landing the bluesy Brits and harnessing the power of their live show onto compact disc. The double disc presentation comprises of songs taken from not one, not two, but three sold out shows at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore. Long known and famous for hosting psychedelic bands such as the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane to name a few, the venue can either be seen as the perfect fit for Gomez’s blues-based jamming, or as completely off-base for Britpop. I can tell you after listening to these CD’s that there is almost no band more suited for it than Gomez. Their live show is leaps and bounds different than their proper album sound — raw, gritty and energetic. That being said, ATO is a perfect fit for the band as well. I flinched at first hearing that they were due to tour with the likes of Trey Anastasio, Ben Harper and other such `Bonnaroo’ jam-type bands, but I had to face up to the fact that Gomez is not really Britpop, that they are indeed a live show based touring jam/blues band that just happened to come from Britain right after the Britpop explosion and just as Radiohead had hit their highest highs.
Most of Out West‘s track selections feature the gravelly voiced Eddie Vedder-like Ben Ottewell. It is the songs that he fronts that seem to most resonate with the crowd, bringing out a subdued aggression and old-timey feel that creates an almost artificial rock street cred. The first disc of the set plays almost like a `greatest hits’ package, starting off with three `opening tracks’ in a row. “Get Miles” is the first song off the first album, “Shot Shot” is the first track from In Our Gun, and “Hangover” is the first track from Liquid Skin. What an opening! They follow up the hat trick with a cover of Tom Waits’ “Going Out West,” originally from his 1992 album, Bone Machine. Most of the remainder of the first disc consists of songs from Liquid Skin, and in fact, most of the songs on the entire double disc set are culled from the first two albums, playing into the hands of their early fans. (If you’re into the whole Trainspotting thing, seven are from Bring It On and six are from Liquid Skin). It is the second half of the first disc that is my favorite portion, consisting of a great run of songs including “We Haven’t Turned Around,” “Fill My Cup” and “Revolutionary Kind.”
The second disc, as mentioned earlier, is much more organic, free flowing and alive. Their cover of Nick Drake’s “Black Eyed Dog” leading into “Free To Run” is just such an example of the jam-like flow. The closer and three encore songs stand out, consisting of the fan assisted “Get Myself Arrested,” the fast paced “These 3 Sins,” and the first album favorites “Make No Sound” and “Whippin’ Piccadilly.”
Gomez has long been a favorite of mine and finally the band has been given the support and proper placement they deserve. I never thought I’d ever say or write this, but…thank you Dave Matthews. Out West is one of the best live albums I’ve heard in some time and truly captures the spirit of a band who are most comfortable on the stage.
Big Brother & the Holding Company- Cheap Thrills
Pearl Jam- any one of their hundreds of live albums
Gomez- Liquid Skin