Review: Ben Ottewell & Ian Ball end of tour celebration of Gomez at Trinity (26/3/2024)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 3-stars.jpg

With Ben Ottewell and Ian Ball having toured the United States and Australia in marking the 25th anniversary of Gomez’s 1998 Mercury Prize winning album Bring It On at the tail end of last year, a 2024 UK tour was an excellent opportunity to add 1999 follow up Liquid Skin to the quarter century celebrations. With the full Gomez line up currently unavailable (the focus of founding member Tom Gray, for instance, is on a career in politics after defeating Eddie Izzard to become Brighton’s Labour candidate in the next General Election), Ottewell and Ball adroitly take the reigns in an enjoyable night of nostalgia.

Ottewell mostly wields an electric guitar while Ball transitions between acoustic guitar and bass, and  a drum machine and pre-programmed effects fill the Gomez void. With opener ‘Revolutionary Kind’, it’s quite startling to realise that Ottewell’s resonant, booming soul voice hasn’t changed in 25 years. While it once seemed anomalous that a bespectacled 21-year old from Derbyshire could emit such a rasping baritone, the burly and bearded Ottewell – as he later suggests to the crowd – is now much more physically befitting his vocal style.

A sense of the band’s history is brought into focus with back to back tracks ’78 Stone Wobble’ (Gomez’s first single “from back in 1932”) and ‘Here Comes The Breeze’ (the first song they played in a room together at Ball’s “shithole” flat). The former highlights the band’s vocal versatility as Ball, an effective but more conventionally indie rock voice, shares lead singing duties with Ottewell. The latter features Ottewell’s crisp acoustic guitar sprinting between chord shapes while Ball’s bass provides the lead hook.

The format of just two members of Gomez delivering songs from their two most celebrated albums has its strengths and weaknesses. The scaled down approach casts laser focus on Ottewell and Ball’s impressive musicianship, such as Ottewell’s often carrying the burden of arrangement with muted chords, arpeggios, chiming open strings, riffs and soloing on his electric guitar. However, there are moments such as when Ball pronounces the beat of ‘Fill My Cup’ by slapping the body of his guitar, and the song tailing off in a twin rumble of bass and electric guitar, that have the freewheeling vibe of a jam session. This is perfectly fine for the occasion though – the crowd revel in the playing of well-loved tunes and there’s plenty of audible evidence of their being au fait with the lyrics.

Ottewell and Ball reminisce about their last Bristol appearance at Thekla in early 2022 (“the night that the computer fell off the stage and broke”), before introducing a song “written when we were hungover”, called, as one would figure, ‘Hangover’. The track sees Ottewell and Ball move into each other’s proximity with some nice sparring of bluesy acoustic guitar. “This is a song we wrote when we were hungover” Ottewell says, continuing the theme when introducing old favourite “Tijuana Lady” (“you were always hungover!” bellows a member of the crowd, obviously catching on). The stripped back acoustic ballad is an ample showcase for Ottewell, with a touch of echo added, to exhibit his redoubtable vocals.

On a few occasions, Ottewell declares that his voice is suffering from end of tour hoarseness, but it’s only particularly apparent when he’s speaking to the crowd. Vocal reinforcements duly arrive, though, in the form of likeably enthusiastic support act Buddy, with whom Ottewell and Ball have recorded a physical media only album called Handbags. They perform ‘Limited Vibes’, a spirited three way vocal that explodes in an electro dance beat at its chorus.

We then have a shout out to Dave, the soundman, and the crowd is cajoled into singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ As a gift to Dave, Buddy and the Gomez boys perform Ace’s ‘How Long Has This Been Going On?’ which features some staccato, classic rock soloing from Ottewell. Late on, there’s a gearshift in delivering established favourites from Bring It On; ‘Get Myself Arrested’ is a near perfect sing along as Buddy cups his ear in coaxing the crowd to deliver chorus vocals. ‘Get Miles’, a soulful blues call to arms, is tailor-made for Ottwell’s larger-than-life vocals and fizzing slide guitar.

In a two song encore, Ottewell declares that his voice is “spannered” and steps away from the mic in invitation for the audience to sing large portions of ‘Make No Sound’. “I can’t think of a better place to end this tour,” ball says before declaring Bristol “fucking awesome.” And with the joyful bounce of ‘Whippin Piccadilly’, I can’t think of a better Gomez-penned closer to a live show.

Scott Hammond