This rain-swept evening’s twin bill neatly illustrated the challenge facing young bands who rely on studio trickery and atmospheric tension to provide their music with sustainable momentum. These two British acts rolled into town on the strength of either a new release (Mojave 3′s Out Of Tune) or considerable critical acclaim (the Americana-by-way-of-Sheffield stylings of Gomez, who recently finished recording their follow-up to last year’s left-field-hit debut Bring It On). Each took a different approach translating their vaguely countrified songs to the live setting, with varying results.
Mojave 3′s strategy could best be defined as “stand and deliver,” the six-piece crafting a mesmerizing blend of quiet acoustic strum and steel guitar sway. Leader/guitarist Neil Halstead and bass player Rachel Goswell were once members of the shoegazer act Slowdive; their new project takes a decidedly different tack, reflecting the influence of Mark Kozelek’s Red House Painters, the narcotic acoustica of Mazzy Star, and some of the Velvet Underground’s more slow-motion wanderings. Although intriguing in spots (“Who Do You Love” pays tribute to the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” to nice effect), Mojave 3 lost spark about halfway through their 40-minute set after struggling to create any energy around their elegant but solemn brand of folk-rock.
For their part, Gomez proved to be the very model of the postmodern, genre-resistant band. Their ’70s-informed Southern rock occasionally quoted the swamp blues of the Meters, the rootsy bawl of prime Creedence, the funkier sensibilities of the Dead, and the sepia-toned nostalgia of The Band, summoning the imagery and iconography of another era while filtering it all through a very ’90s sheen of programmed beats and recorded samples. Their version of Americana is an ideal, imagined through various media rather than experienced firsthand, lending the group’s music a distinctly cinematic quality not unlike their countrymen Radiohead, had that group’s record collection been more Dylan than Pink Floyd.
With three accomplished singers (the most noteworthy, Ben Ottewell, sounds eerily like the more cigarette-and-bourbon-damaged moments of John Fogerty and Steve Marriott) and an instrumental prowess far beyond their years, Gomez played as though their lives depended upon it. From the first dissonant chords of “Get Miles” to the haunting Eagles-like “Tijuana Lady” to their set-closing “78 Stone Wobble” (which segued into a quick run-through of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”, filtered through the Stones), the band leaped around the stage, traded off any number of vintage guitars, and generally seemed to be having one helluva time.
“Thanks very much, maybe you know this one,” intoned guitarist Ian Ball before leaning into a cover of the Talking Heads’ “Road To Nowhere,” rewriting that tune’s martial beats and stiff depiction of modern woes as a drug-addled party tune. By the time the band blew through their English hit single “Get Myself Arrested”, the capacity crowd was theirs, singing along as if to the tune it most resembles, the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. A fitting end to an amazing performance.