Gig Review + Photography by John Hayhurst

“Once upon a time, not too long ago” Gomez released their debut album ‘Bring It On’, it won the coveted Mercury Music Prize ahead of Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’ and The Verve’s ‘Urban Hymns’ and projected these young lads from Southport into the nation’s spotlight, and then on to some serious exposure in the US. They remain a bigger draw in the States than their own country but having taken a break for a few years they are keen to get back out on the road to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this album. ‘Bring it On’ was a grower, a very rare commodity considering the Brit Pop singles stream was starting to seriously run dry. We were drawn in by the simplicity of ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’, but for those that cared to delve deeper, they uncovered a rich seam of musical diversity that mixed Indie Rock, Blues and Folk with Lo Fi Sample experimentation, three different vocalists, and tracks that at first would sound fragmented – almost like they had glued together different ideas and didn’t quite know what to do with the end product. However, after a few listens this disjointed mess weaved inside your head to make perfect sense, and consequently the album itself was listened to in full rather than picking out the highlights. Tonight, they return to the City where they played their first ever gig – Leeds, although not at the Hyde Park Social Club, this evening they are at the sold out O2 Academy and could have probably had a good go at filling the Arena down the road.

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A superb short set from John Smith took place earlier, he admitted he is “loving opening up for his all-time favourite band”, which immediately endears him to the audience and his charm continues with the songs from his last ‘Headlong’ album. He might look like your average hipster from Shoreditch, but the delivery reminds me of John Martyn, there’s some angst in his voice, but also this warm gravelly toned vocal of a seasoned singer songwriter who has clearly spent a lot of time on the road.

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Gomez emerge from the stage door to a massive cheer from this patient crowd, the opening synth sound of ‘Get Miles’ fills the room and we are off. The album will be played live in full, and in the same listing order, exactly how it should be. No major deviation or changing of styles, this is a perfect rendition sent to awaken your nostalgic senses and prompt the loudest singalong this venue has seen for a while. Towering above everyone, the heavily bearded Ben Ottewell sings “I love this island, but this island’s killing me”, the expectation of his distinct vocals is totally surpassed as it sounds like he’s been gargling crude oil backstage, the depth and rough raspy sound he emits comes from somewhere very deep indeed, and in the late 90’s it used to be startling to see a fresh faced young spectacled person with a voice like a snoring bear. Now he looks much more like his voice, big beard and very bear like. In distinctive contrast Ian Ball has a softness and lighter tone, and still looks young for his age, he has the joy of starting the first of many singalongs as ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’ is out next. This would normally be an encore, but back in 1998 the then 20 yr. olds wouldn’t have imagined their imminent success and to think to put this last on the record to ensure its played later in the set list for the 20th Anniversary tour. So, they have been known to play it twice as a final encore.

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The third vocalist Tom Gray switches between keys, samples and guitar, he is the glue in-between the rough and smooth styles, teasing the audience by saying “When we were in Scotland they sang so loud they drowned out the guitar on this one” it was the opening to ‘Love is Better Than a Warm Trombone’, never able to resist a challenge the Leeds crowd certainly had a good go at it and Gomez collectively took a step back when it happened. I’ve not heard the Academy so loud for years and it seemed like everyone here knew all the lyrics to everything, whether we were singing “Got a haircut, got a silver tooth, gonna get myself arrested” or “Send a little message” chorus, or just joining in with the Ben Ottewell roar of “Blue Moon Rising” at the end of the track. The fans and band were in total harmony with this night, and the twenty years just disappeared in the ether.

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After the full album run through we were treated to a few extras, in particular a song they hadn’t played live in over 10 years ‘Machismo’. It felt a little flat after the album and I would rather have had ‘Devil Will Ride’ instead, but you can’t have everything.

A simple thank you from Tom and the band played out with ‘Bring it On’, which is the name of the album, but actually appeared on ‘Liquid Skin’ a year later, which I’m hoping will prompt thoughts about a 20 year anniversary tour of that record next year.

For the encore they brought back John Smith to join in with ‘Revolutionary Kind’. This really was a superb night, probably better than my high expectations and I’ll definitely be booking another ticket if they return – there are a handful of dates left on this tour (although it is mostly sold out) but they also play a couple of Festivals later in the year, coming back to this area for Bingley Music Live in September.

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SETLIST: Get Miles / Whippin’ Piccadilly / Make No Sound / 78 Stone Wobble / Tijuana Lady / Here Comes the Breeze / Love is Better Than a Warm Trombone / Get Myself Arrested / Free to Run / Bubble Gum Years / Rie’s Wagon / Shot Shot / Blue Moon Rising / Machismo / We Haven’t Turned Around / Bring It On / ENCORE: Revolutionary Kind

LISTENING:Bring it On’ remastered deluxe album released April 2018

WATCHING:Love is Better Than a Warm Trombone’ Live Recording

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