Words by Sam Lambeth / Pics by Phil Drury
Cailin Russo is excited. “This is the best night of the tour,” she beams, her bleach blond locks flowing vivaciously in an imaginary Birmingham breeze. RUSSO and her band are an adorable bundle of energy, sweeping through the jet-fuelled punk of ‘House with A Pool’ and the ‘Something’-pilfering ballad ‘Lonely’. As opening acts go, RUSSO packs a sweet, but mighty, punch.
“You lot haven’t changed much,” grins Gomez’s premier blues howler Ben Ottewell to the Birmingham faithful. You can see from his smile that it’s meant in jest, and while the Southport experimentalists pretty much look the same – Ian Ball is still cherubic and childlike, Tom Gray is the mischievous mouthpiece, and Ottewell has the hirsute beard of a part-time wrestler – the audience has aged somewhat. But lest we forget it has been twenty years since their landmark debut record Bring It On surprised and stunned the British music landscape with its dusty Americana, hazy rockers and widescreen balladry.
When released, Bring It On beat a plethora of perfect albums to win the Mercury Music Prize. On reflection at the 02 Institute tonight, such an accolade proved entirely earned – opener ‘Get Miles’, where Ottewell is first able to unleash that mighty croak, is cloaked in atmospheric bleeps and surging riffs, while lead single ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’ is a playful toe-tapper built around slide guitars and Gray’s box of keyboard tricks. The beauty of Bring It On is in its bold imagination and restless creativity – on a balmy Birmingham night, the five-piece take the crammed audience to the dim dive bars of Tennessee (a stunning, jaw-dropping ‘Tijuana Lady’), the open highways of California (the beefed-up, chiming colossus ‘Here Comes the Breeze’) and the bug-addled back porches of Texas (the country ballad ‘Free to Run’).
The band are good hosts, Gray permanently geeing the crowd up during the skewed pop of ’78 Stone Wobble’ and the compact crunch of ‘Get Myself Arrested’. As they breezily trade instruments, share harmonies and extend songs into fluid jams, the sheer talent of the five-piece comes into play, as does the cruel reminder that it is perhaps this talent, this restless creativity and fearlessness, that meant commercial appeal never quite beckoned.
Once Bring It On comes to a close, there is still time for some old school Gomez classics. The menacing, snarling ‘Shot Shot’ and the straight-ahead shuffle of ‘Silence’ show that even when Gomez began losing their experimental roots for something more conventional, they were still making music that was far from ordinary. The beautiful, tear-jerking ‘We Haven’t Turned Around’ brings the 02 Institute to a stunned silence and the closing ‘Revolutionary Kind’ hammers home that a world without Gomez is one that is far too bland.
Whether or not there will be new music remains to be seen, but Gomez’s long-awaited return to the stage is a bold reminder of their unbridled talents. A new album and renewed recognition? Bring it on.
RUSSO – supporting Gomez, Bring It On 20th Anniversary Tour @ O2 Institute 28.08.18 / Phil Drury
For more on Russo, visit www.russo.lnk.to/hwap
Gomez, Bring It On 20th Anniversary Tour @ O2 Institute 28.08.18 / Phil Drury
For more on Gomez, visit www.gomeztheband.com
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