The exact nature of
the Gomez sound has always been the subject of hot debate — especially
in the band’s native England, where the music press spoils for such
fights. In the U.K., says drummer Olly Peacock, the coverage is all
about “pigeonholing,” which has left Brit critics a bit befuddled over
what to do with the group’s alt/pop/rock/dream/space/jam/indie
stylings. “We’ve always been in our own sort of bubble in England,”
Peacock reflected before the group’s May 24 show at San Francisco’s
Fillmore. “The vibe over here is a bit more open.”
Well, it’s a good thing the folks from NME and Mojo probably weren’t in town to see Gomez
play San Francisco, because the band’s genre-busting ways were in full
effect, and it took all of our American “open”-ness to navigate the
frenzied set. However, this was less a case of the group toying with
subtle category distinctions and more of the members blowing out husky
ramblers into full-bore rock stomps. Older tracks such as “Hangover,”
whose blend of ethereal vocal harmonies, drum-circle beats, and
shambling guitars had made it a crux of the debate — Is it
alternative? Jam? Christ, is it “world music”? — were dragged through
the amps and given a full workout. Riffs that had sounded spacey and
spooky on the record were turned into more of an aural pummeling live.
be fair, “Hangover” is a complex, multi-track weave that would be a
feat to replicate onstage. But a better solution might have been to
strip it down rather than crank it up. Too many of the tracks here were
handled roughly, treated as templates for hard jams instead of the
fragile structures they are. Admittedly, a such as like Liquid Skin‘s
“Rhythm & Blues Alibi” seems to beg for a glorious riff-up, but the
song’s real strength was in never quite releasing its coiled tension:
explosive choruses played counterpoint with airy verses, but they still
held the cool, plodding beat. Live, the song felt too willing to cave
into its own rock longings.
would be a mistake to overly fault the fellows for itching to throw a
spirited show. But perhaps all those confused appraisals have taken
their toll, tricking the members of Gomez into thinking they’re a
different sort of band than they are. Let’s hope not. The new record, How We Operate,
is one of the group’s best and one of its most focused, a cross of
their early existential whispering with bedrock pop hooks. It
contributes at least four songs — “Hamoa Beach,” “See the World,”
“Girlshapedlovedrug,” and the title track — to the high echelons of
the group’s canon, and every one of those tunes sounded great in person.
yet, whenever a song gave them an inch, the band members took a mile.
It’s almost as if the “jam band” labeling that has dogged them
stateside — a wide miss of the target that Peacock calls “surprising”
and that has led to twin-billings with the likes of String Cheese
Incident — became a self-fulfilling prophecy in the Dead’s hometown.
Ultimately, that’s a case of the band not giving itself enough credit.
The looping, incanted motifs that drive Gomez’s kookier tunes might be
spun into big extenda-riffs by those who don’t know better. But you’d
think their own authors would.