Gomez may be the only “jam band” that is not a jam band. While appealing to that audience, the band has maintained solid craftsmanship in its music and garnered fans from many circles. Dubbed by some as the British Wilco, Gomez landed a major-label recording contract before even playing a single live gig. Still, Gomez is often lauded for its live performances. But whereas the Allmans’ Live at the Fillmore East and Frampton Comes Alive were major steps forward for those artists, Out West is more of a lateral move for Gomez.
The double-disc Out West was recorded during a three-night run in January 2005 at the famed Fillmore West in San Francisco. Many of the songs here are taken from the band’s debut, Bring It On, which won a Mercury Prize and received high accolades after it was released in 1998. Opener “Get Miles” gets things going with singer/guitarist Ben Ottwell’s husky crooning amidst the steady groove. The crowd goes wild for “Here Comes the Breeze,” played to the hilt with a gently swaying tempo and vocal harmonies that sound like they came from a Moe bootleg, and the funky vaudeville riffs in “Love Is a Warm Trombone” are to die for.
Gomez’s 1999 sophomore release, Liquid Skin, was expected to be the band’s breakthrough, but it didn’t fare as well as its predecessor. That said, the live renditions its songs are far more suitable than the studio versions. The roots-y “Hangover” is tinged with a Celtic breakdown, and the ballad-infused “We Haven’t Turned Around’ must have had half the audience members holding out their lighters.
This album does the most justice to the tracks culled from 2004’s Split the Difference and 2002’s In Our Gun, whether it’s the whirling saxophone clutter of “Shot Shot,” the post-rock hoedown flair of “Bring It On,” or the mellow hippie stride of “Do One.” “Nothing is Wrong,” despite its sappiness, might be a staple of classic-rock radio thirty years from now, with its minimal mountain grooves. Gomez graces us with covers, as well, including the snotty, Britpop rendition of Tom Waits’s “Going out West” and a rendering of the subtle Nick Drake tune “Black Eyed Dog,” a key standard in Gomez’s live itinerary.
That said, the songs could have been chosen more wisely, especially because some significant fan favorites are absent. Out West is a long time coming for the band, but it’s best left to the seasoned fans.