Alex Worsnip 20/11/2006

It would be fair to say that Gomez are not perhaps currently at their creative peak. Most fans of the band would freely admit that pretty much each album has been slightly less accomplished than the previous one, beginning with their unbelievable, genre-defying classic debut 'Bring It On' through pretty good second and third albums and some indifferent recent efforts. On newer material, gone is the playful experimentalism that took in a veritable clash of folk, blues, Tex-Mex and lo-fi rock, and in is a far more conventional indie-rock sound, churning out the required ballads, the required upbeat poppy tracks, and the required rockers. This is a shame, because it hasn't even paid off for them commercially - chart positions are noticeably lower than they once were.

So, the prospect of seeing Gomez live is one that interests but does not electrify me. Their best of album has just been released, so I have some cause for hope, and indeed they play some classic old tracks which are incredible: in particular, 'Get Myself Arrested' and 'We Haven't Turned Around' are brilliant in totally different ways, the former a cacophonous, joyful riot and the latter a spaced-out, epic lament. Further, the gig is almost worth it alone for the sheer experience of first hearing Ben Ottewell sing live: his distinctive, incredible, gravelly voice has a power that almost knocks you over, effortlessly note-perfect and booming. It's always been one of Gomez's great mysteries that they have one of the best singers in rock yet insist on giving lead vocal turns to two other band members, one of whom is pretty good and one of whom is pretty average.

There are other great moments: 'Shot Shot' and 'Whipping Piccadilly' go down brilliantly, and rightly so, and 'Ruff Stuff' and 'Fill My Cup' bring a touch of squalling noise to proceeding: electronic in the former case; drum-thrashing in the latter. But there's an inevitable feeling that newer material is simply boring, with a slightly Americana-ish predictability. And there's quite a lot of material off the last two albums, especially in the middle of the set, which veritably sags. So the verdict is pretty simple: if you've never seen them before, it's worth it to hear the best songs off the first 3 albums live, but if you've seen them before, this might not be the best moment to catch them. They're past their peak in songwriting but not in their ability to recreate their best moments, and with Ben Ottewell's voice it's a recreation that's worth it.