Bowery Ballroom, New York, 10/7/06
A British jam band? Is there such a thing? Well, sort of.
If you judge a jam band by its crowd, like judging a book by its cover, then sure, there is such a thing as a British jam band, and its name is Gomez. A Gomez gig has much the same crowd as you might find at a Dave Matthews concert -- just as eager to sing along to every word of their favorite standbyes as they are rabid for the singular jammy moments unique to only one evening, one moment in time. The kind that used to cause Deadheads to trade bootleg tapes, saying things like, "Dude, this one has that amazing Jerry solo on Dark Star from Watkins Glen in '73." But in Gomez' case, one might hear a fan saying something more along the lines of, "Omigod, Tom Gray didn't do that solo acoustic one last night!"
Judge a band by its gig mates, and yep, again Gomez are the lone British cousin on a bill of jam bands. But perhaps it's more guilt by association. It's likely most Americans discovered them at massive fests like Bonnaroo and SxSW, where they just happened to appear on festival lineups in close proximity to the next generation of jam bands like O.A.R., String Cheese Incident, etc. Honestly, they bear more of a resemblance to Guster, with its melodic pop and bongo backbone than to Phish, with its protracted guitar solos and endless variations on a theme. The question of whether the former could have existed without the latter is a philosophical debate for another day.
Judge a band by its earthy-crunchitude, and Gomez rank highly, as well. Considering they've "gone green" and all. Yes, they have officially, honorably, and laudably taken the high road on tour. Literally. Their entire tour is biodiesel-fueled. Yes, the bus runs on veggies. That, in combination with their commitment to recycle anything and everything, their choice of staying at sustainable lodgings whenever possible, and the sponsorship of their tour by Clif Bar, and you have an eco-friendly flavor that brings to mind their hemp-clad cousins across the pond.
But judge a band by its output, and Gomez are the unusual confluence of Jam Band and distinctly Britpop sensibilities. Yes, they have that jam band staple of drummer + percussionist. At their core, they also have that everything-comes-from-the-blues celebration of American roots music that most jam bands share. But there's something undeniably British in their pop-ness, that makes them wholly unlike other jam bands out there. Part of it comes from having three vocalists, each with strikingly different voices, trading off lead duties on reliably poppy, boppy tunes with an undercurrent of pensive brooding only Brits can muster. Also in the mix with the occasional slide guitar is a distinctly Britpop art of atmospheric guitar layering that would do Nigel Godrich proud.
This is my kind of jam band. And judging by their sold-out three-night run at New York's Bowery Ballroom, I'm not the only one. The waves of adoration washing over the band is palpable. And little wonder. Gomez are in their element on stage and truly come alive with their fans.
With their trifecta of vocalists, no matter whose voice you prefer, there's something for everyone in the audience. There's Ben Ottewell's gruff big brother with a broken heart vibe. Then there's Ian Ball's youthful indie approach with its tinge of touching insecurity in the lyrics. And Tom Gray is the most affably chatty of the group. With leads ranging from jangly alt guitar, to circus pop organ, and back again to twangy slide, there's a tone for everyone. And with the combined kits of the drummer and the percussionist filling the entire back half of the stage, there's a tempo for everyone, as well.
One key to Gomez's success in the live show metier is in their observation of the importance of interaction. It's an interplay between musicians that is wholly egalitarian. Not one of the band members is officially the frontman, putting himself out there to outshine the others. They are equals in sync with each other from thestart of each song to its end. And while each man has his moment in the spotlight, he steps back into the collective whole at the end of his tune, allowing the next to step up and take his place. And a healthy respect for interaction is the only way a band can pull off the improvisation required in any jam.
This philosophy also extends to personal interaction with the crowd. They know that making each night unique makes every crowd feel special. They talk to the crowd. They laugh with the crowd. They show a personal side that makes them seem accessible on a very human scale that is in distinct contrast to their celebrity-mongering brethren in the music scene.
Look at it this way: They could have booked one night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. But instead, they bookedthree nights at the Bowery Ballroom. That really says everything you need to know about Gomez. Now go out and see them live...