Friday, May 05, 2006

How They Operate

By d-mac
Since last year's unfortunate closing of Corner CD in the Highlands, Criminal Records in L5P is fast becoming my new favorite local record store. Despite the relatively small size of the shop itself, you can usually find whatever it is you're looking for there, and I've found I can almost always count on them to have new releases in stock on their actual release date, which is clutch. With this in mind, this past Tuesday I decided to skip the shenanigans and go straight to Moreland Avenue to pick up my copy of the spanking new Gomez record, How We Operate, along with the new Built to Spill album I'd been meaning to buy for a couple weeks. When I got back to my car I took inventory of my newly acquired spoils and tried to decide which would be removed from its cellophane packaging and listened to first on my way home. As I opened the bag, I noticed the guy at the store had stuffed in some extra goodies along with the Gomez disc, including: TWO extra album sleeves SIGNED by the entire band AND a voucher to get into an in-studio rap-session thing with the band and about 50 fans, being recorded on the afternoon of their show in Atlanta (yesterday). Score! So, with only a few days to prepare for Thursday's show(s) I decided to give How We Operate first listen and let it start to soak in. It's now Friday and I haven't been able to listen to much of anything else. Sorry, Built to Spill. We'll hang soon, I promise.

For those uninitiated, I'm not talking about this Gomez, rather the brit-rock outfit from Southport, England who made a splash in the US soon after their aptly-named debut Bring It On was released by Virgin subsidiary Hut Records in 1998. Still maintaining their original lineup since their inception over a decade ago, the band is co-fronted thricewise by brooding crooner Ian Ball, congenial cut-up Tom Gray, and ruminative rocker Ben Ottewell, whose gravely voice some might recognize from his cover of the Beatles' "Getting Better" used in the old Phillips TV commercials. As the story goes, the origin of the band's name is somewhat of a fluke. At one of their first gigs, someone in the band left a note out for a friend named Gomez who was coming to see them, saying where they'd be playing. People read this and assumed that Gomez was the name of the band and the rest is history, as they say.

I was first turned on to these guys by one of my college roommates, Taylor, who owned (and presumably still owns) every record or movie ever made since about 1973, except for maybe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Movie, and the Entire Michael Bolton Catalogue box set, which for all I know might both be on back-order. I remember hearing the stuff that he'd play off the first couple albums and liking it, but it wasn't until some years later, when I got the opportunity to see them live, that I really fully appreciated what was going on.

That opportunity came about two years ago, when Matt, AJ, and I saw them play the Variety Playhouse here in Atlanta. If I remember correctly, Matt had just recently moved up here and AJ was in town visiting from Tallahassee. Rachael Yamagata opened, who I would have described at the time as the bastard love child of Tori Amos and Andrew Dice Clay. Despite her foul-mouthed banter and complete lack of the stage etiquette one might expect from a young budding piano balladeer, she put on a surprisingly captivating performance that went with the headliners like shrimp and grits. Gomez were the definitive rockers on that tour, destined, it seemed, to burn out before they could fade away. Ottewell seemed to be positioning himself as the belligerent, fuck-you front man, bringing a healthy dose of angst to the stage, while Tom Gray kept things in check by cracking jokes and engaging the crowd in singalongs and handclaps.

This is the dynamic I expected of the band on their spring tour, which kicked off this Wednesday in Asheville, NC and passed through Atlanta last night, again at the Variety, but something has changed. They don't seem to be following the rock cliché handbook so closely anymore. I don't know whether the band went through some sort of internal shakeup or had a come-to-Jesus or what, but they seemed a lot more cohesive this time around. Ben Ottewell still stood center stage last night, but he was probably the most humble presence among them. He actually looked like a kid who'd just been awakened from his nap for snack time (maybe that's the secret behind the gravely voice). Ian Ball seems to be taking up more of a lead roll on stage on this tour, and Tom Gray is still his gregarious self. Whatever is happening, it's working. The performance was loose, energetic, and fun. You could really tell they were enjoying themselves up there, and the audience responded in kind. They played a lot from the new record, and some old classics. I have only a few criticisms. The crowd turnout wasn't bad, but it left something to be desired. I don't know if this was the ticket price or the fact that the album was only just released this week or what, but I was expecting more people. There were also a few points in the show when I thought the sound mix was a little off; once when Ball's backing vocals drowned out Ottewell's lead, and then again during "Shot Shot" when you could barely hear the dirty sax that AJ and I think sounds very Morphine. They came back out for two separate encores, leaving us thoroughly rocked and, frankly, exhausted.

Gomez plays Tipatina's Uptown in New Orleans tonight, and then continues on their U.S. Spring Tour through the end of May. They'll be back in mid-June after a quick stop in the U.K. for some gigs back home.

If you haven't already done so, go and buy How We Operate this weekend. You will thank me later. I'm going to go ahead and say this is probably the best album I'll buy all year.


Blogger newwavegurly said...

I really REALLY want to see these guys while they're touring this year. I loved them the last time I saw them (opening for Cake), and have liked the cuts off the new album that I've heard on RP.

That reminds me... I need to pick that album up. Soon.

8:15 PM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger d-mac said...

Gomez and CAKE... now I bet THAT was some show. I totally didn't remember them touring together. I've seen CAKE five times now I think, and it never seems to get old. John McCrea is easily the best vibraslap player I've ever heard.

3:28 PM, May 08, 2006  

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