On a damp and balmy Friday night at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, the five men of Gomez seem exultant, finally wrapping up an exhausting couple of weeks on a promotional US tour of 13 gigs – including Austin’s SXSW – plus a laundry list of press, radio and television obligations. While a noticeably relaxed, beer-swilling party mood prevails on this last Stateside show, alternating frontmen Tom Gray, Ben Ottewell and Ian Ball, plus powerful drummer Olly Peacock and bassist Paul Blackburn, pull off an assured, taut and muscular 20-song set.
While expected tracks like -See The World’ make an appearance, Gomez choose to unveil a generous helping of songs from their latest release, A New Tide, like Ball’s jittery slice of toe-tapping jubilance -Airstream Driver’ and Gray’s irresistible, Monkees-meets-Squeeze -If I Ask You Nicely’. They even surprise the sold-out crowd with rarities like -Waster’, from their 2000 Machismo EP and kick out a particularly savage encore that links the fresh -Win Park Slope’ and 2006’s -How We Operate’ into a virile, twisted suite of growling blues and wayward Kinks, carried along by a quirky psychedelic undertow.
In fact, it’s that impossible challenge of figuring out just what Gomez’ sound is supposed to be – and what to expect album to album – that is both the miracle and curse of the British band. That dissociative identity disorder shapes the entirety of A New Tide and while some critics have sniped that the album is unfocused, it might well be the band’s most defiantly unpredictable release since their brilliant debut: a folktronica-touched mÃ©lange of rootsy rambles (-Natural Reaction’), blissful Beatles-esque chamber pop (-Other Plans’) and uneasy ballads (-Bone Tired’). It has been 11 years since Gomez won the Mercury Music Prize for Bring It On, and while the band has weirdly fallen off the ‘cool’ radar in the UK, they’ve attained a potent, beloved presence in the States – Ball, Peacock and Blackburn have even settled here.
A New Tide was primarily recorded in Chicago and Charlottesville and there’s a certain kinship between Gomez and the very American imprint of Wilco, Pearl Jam or The Dave Matthews Band (hardly surprising why they’re signed to Matthews’ own ATO label in the States). Husky-voiced bluesman Ottewell, Brit pop-leaning Gray and the wryly experimental Ball have explained in recent interviews that they started in very different, solo directions for this record. Each member created rough sketches of tracks like Ottewell’s cantering, grunge-flecked keen, -Little Pieces’ or Ball’s joyful, remix-ready -Airstream Driver,’ before eventually presenting those ideas – online – to their other bandmates who were scattered throughout the U.K. and the States. All five members of Gomez finally convened in studio with producer Brian Deck to work out those nascent compositions.
As a result, A New Tide ripples from track to track like a passionate, slightly drunken conversation between five good mates meeting up in a pub for the first time in months. That’s not a bad thing; A New Tide is a slow burn of satisfying discoveries. Though Ottewell get’s the lion’s share of attention thanks to his lush baritone and freewheeling delivery, it is Ball who surprises the most. Aside from the wonderful -Airborne Driver’ (which tonight has the Williamsburg crowd out-and-out boogieing) his sinewy, ruminative attack of -Win Park Slope’, awash with mournful backing vocals from Stars’ Amy Millan, shapes up into one of sleeper gems of the year.