GOMEZ + JOHN SMITH – DE LA WARR, PAVILION, BEXHILL-ON-SEA 18.07.19
As Frank Zappa is often quoted as saying, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Tonight’s architecture is the Grade One listed De La Warr Pavilion, and tonight’s music has likewise been fêted with the Mercury Prize. I’m trying to write while I’m dancing, though neither activity is likely to win any awards.
Gomez are the five piece band providing the music. They scooped the prestigious Mercury Prize in 1998 with their debut album ‘Bring It On’. Tonight’s show is celebrating the 20th anniversary of their sophomore follow-up ‘Liquid Skin’. If you’re not familiar with Gomez, their music is arty alternative rock, daubing a broad sound canvas with a rich and varied palette of plaintive blues, jangly guitar, psychedelia and sonic experimentation. We’re in for a treat.
First up though, is singer songwriter John Smith. He takes the stage like a hipster troubadour, black clad with a tidy beard and architect specs, his acoustic guitar strapped on at armpit level. Any fleeting concern that this might be a bit dull is immediately dispelled by the first few notes, finger picked with a delay that sounds like it’s getting the train over from Brighton. I’ve got goosebumps already. The vocal on the first number, ‘Hummingbird’, is reverb drenched and honey sweet, with just a hint of gravel when pushed hard. He has a bank of pedals at his feet, some combination of which produces a massive swirling phase crescendo. This is nice.
Mr Smith is funny too, with witty, self-deprecating quips and anecdotes between numbers. We learn that he used to live in Hove before moving to ‘the north’ (Somerset), and that he’s friends with Ben Ottewell, the member of Gomez who looks a bit like him but is about “four times the size”.
The set passes very agreeably. The songs are well crafted and easy on the ear, and the occasional guitar breaks demonstrate that he’s a superbly accomplished player. The chorus effect guitar section in ‘Far Too Good’, embellished with chiming harmonics, is strikingly beautiful. Most spectacular of all is the final number ‘Winter’, played seated with the instrument laid across his lap. Hitting the guitar body and strings percussively with both hands, he coaxes out an intricate rhythm, and as the song progresses, an improbably melodic tune. It’s a very impressive conclusion to the set.
John Smith setlist:
‘Hummingbird’, ‘Headlong’, ‘Joanna’, ‘Far Too Good’, ‘Save My Life’, ‘Winter’.
John Smith website: www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com
It’s a pleasant summer evening, and the newly installed bar out on the terrace is doing a brisk trade between the acts. As the crowd gathers for the main event there’s a buzz of anticipation around the hall and an enthusiastic cheer as Gomez take the stage.
Olly Peacock is enthroned behind an impressive looking Sonor drum kit on a vertiginously high riser, and bassist Paul Blackburn stands nonchalantly beside a glowering Ampeg stack. The lead vocals and the remainder of the instrumentation are shared between the other three members. House left is Ian Ball, slender of build in a black T-shirt, his curly hair nodding along as he initially plays a Telecaster guitar. House right, Tom Gray, appropriately in a grey T-shirt, starts the set plucking at an acoustic, grinning broadly beneath big specs. Centre stage is the ursine and bearded figure of Ben Ottewell, black clad with matching guitar, and looking indeed like a larger version of the support act, John Smith.
We’re expecting ‘Liquid Skin’ in full, so it’s no surprise that the first number is that album’s opening track. “Be my hangover girl,” the backing vocals drawl, as Ben takes the lead. The triple guitar instrumental is mesmeric, with sparkling arpeggios dancing over a fizzing pool of tremolo. Ben continues on lead vocals for ‘Revolutionary Kind’. With the lights sweeping like searchlights, he seems to have stepped on all his effects pedals at once for the guitar break. Teetering layers of delay totter towards infinity, until that familiar three strum rhythm figure finally plucks us back into the verse.
There’s lots of swapping instruments between songs. The bearded guitar tech is clearly going to have a very busy evening. I imagine the sound engineer will need to be on it too, muting and unmuting the respective channels as the jack plugs are handed round.
Tom moves to keyboards for ‘Bring It On’, and drummer Olly sends fills thundering around the rack toms. It’s all change again for ‘Blue Moon Rising’, with Tom taking over bass and vocals, while bass player Paul stands in a shaft of blue light working ‘rain stick’ percussion. Again I’m struck by the sound Ben is wringing from his guitar and pedal board. The chorus and sustain sounds like he’s using an e-bow, but it’s all effects, as far as I can see.
Ian takes the lead vocal for ‘Las Vegas Dealer’, then switches to acoustic for ‘We Haven’t Turned Around’. With the stage swathed in green light, Ben growls a wistful vocal while Tom supplies a mournful cello sound on keyboards.
Announcing that it’s fifteen years since they last played it, a growling fuzz bass intro launches ‘Fill My Cup’, with Tom on lead vocals. The stage glows with washes of intensely vivid blue light. For ‘Rhythm & Blues Alibi’, Ian sings the verse with Ben taking over on the bridge. The guitars chime beautifully.
The band invite Ben’s mate John Smith (tonight’s support act) to join them on electric guitar for ‘Rosalita’, which is a nice touch. He repays them with a blistering lead break, and stays on for the expansive sweep of ‘California’. This celebratory performance of the second album concludes with ‘Devil Will Ride’. Tom utilises two microphones, one of which provides the “Sparky The Magic Piano” vocal treatment. Ian chips in the marvellously melancholic line, “Not even the Royal Mail can deliver us from what we got into”, and then, after a short bass breakdown, we’re into the triumphant play out.
“Would you like a few more, for the price of your ticket?” enquires Ben. Oh yes, we would. They’ve done plenty more albums, but they know full well what we all want to hear. We are treated to four numbers from that prize winning debut album, concluding with ‘Get Myself Arrested’, featuring a rather impressive audience singalong. Naturally there are enthusiastic calls for an encore, and the band obliges with the gloriously massive soundscape of ‘Get Miles’. John Smith is back on stage, Tom is on Keyboards, Ian seems to be drilling his headstock into the top of his amp, and Ben’s vocal delay sounds like he really is miles away.
“There’s not enough hours in our day,” bemoans the lyrics of the very last number, the ludicrously catchy ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’. I can’t tell you much more about it, as I’m too busy dancing around the architecture in a manner better suited to a younger, fitter person in a less culturally significant location. It has been an absolutely fantastic evening. If Gomez sounds like your sort of thing, I strongly recommend the vinyl reissue of ‘Liquid Skin’. The re-master sounds beautiful.
‘Hangover’, ‘Revolutionary Kind’, ‘Bring It On’, ‘Blue Moon Rising’, ‘Las Vegas Dealer’, ‘We Haven’t Turned Around’, ‘Fill My Cup’, ‘Rhythm And Blues Alibi’, ‘Rosalita’, ‘California’, ‘Devil Will Ride’, ‘Make No Sound’, ‘Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone’, ‘Here Comes The Breeze’, ‘Get Myself Arrested’, (encore) ‘Get Miles’, ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’
Gomez website: www.gomeztheband.com
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