In an era when bands are massaged and shaped into easily grasped promotional personae (with more thought often given to the promo materials than to the music), Gomez’s almost total lack of image can be refreshing. Its members don’t appear on the album covers (including “How We Operate,” its recent release for Dave Matthew’s ATO imprint) or at the latest nightclubs or on Page Six, which means you’re forced to concentrate on the music — rustic blues-rock of a very high order.
But what works on album doesn’t come off as well onstage; being the least flashy band in the world makes for only an intermittently absorbing show. The band’s three singers are Ben Ottewell, whose gruff high tenor has a soulfulness that approaches Van Morrison; moon-faced Harry Potter look-alike Tom Gray, with his light croon; and Ian Bell, the most conventional rock singer, although his nasal vowels make him the most English-sounding. They keep the music from ever sinking into a monochromatic rut, but none makes a real impression onstage. Similarly, they’re all fine musicians, but no one is a stand-out soloist.
The music leans toward the Band, but Gomez’s songs lack the mythic Americana of “The Weight” or “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” A better analogue would be the early ’70s edition of Fleetwood Mac, which made some memorable albums such as “Penguin” and “Bare Trees” but was so faceless that a shady manager was able to send out a second, faux version of the band on tour.
During the early going at the Avalon on Tuesday, Gomez could have performed behind a curtain for all the personality they showed. But about halfway through the two-hour set, the band loosened up considerably. “Blue Moon Rising” and “How We Operate” built into exciting rave-ups, the rousing shuffle of “Hamoa Beach” scooted along like something from “Europe 72”-era Grateful Dead, and “Love Is Better Than a Warm Trombone” had an appealing, bluesy spaciness reminiscent of the early Dead. Expansive and bristling with energy, this songs offered rare moments of spontaneity from this often overly considered band. But they refused to sustain the moment, and whatever momentum they conjured was broken by the insertion of the more typically doleful “Free to Run.”
Opener David Ford is one of the many sensitive singer-songwriters that are showing up on KCRW with increasing frequency. His solo opening set showed him to be a singer with a fine, rough-grained pleading voice. He sounds like a guy who’s been up all night having “that talk” with his spouse/lover. The songs on his Independiente debut, “I Sincerely Apologise for All the Trouble I’ve Caused” tend toward modern-day love-on-the-rocks melodrama. Even on “State of the Union,” which he introduced as being inspired by the 2004 GOP convention, he sounded like a disappointed lover.
Gomez plays Gotham’s Webster Hall on June 21.