Gomez, The Zutons - House Of Blues - Las Vegas, Nevada - 22nd September 2004

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Weird town, great venue. Everyone, including your cantankerous sod of a reviewer went home happy.

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Vegas is a strange place. It's the only town in the world where after the sun goes down, the place gets brighter. The House of Blues is situated in Mandalay Bay, the swanky hotel at the Southern end of the Las Vegas strip and it's a small venue in a very, very, very big hotel. As a venue, it's not much bigger than the Paradiso, say, but it's got more levels than a department store and the seating upstairs is so high and steep you'd suffer Vertigo if you sat up in the rafters. Thankfully, as the Zutons come out to play I'm down front on the main floor. In fact, there's only myself, an insurance salesman from Oregon and three fat tarts from California here, but we don't care. By the end of the first song, a guy who introduced himself to me at the bar as Whiskey Joe has made his way to the front and begins dancing like an embarrassing uncle at a wedding and by the time the band have belted out a cracking Pressure Point, which echoes round the building with some menace, a few more people have trotted down the steps from the bar. A waitress comes up to me (at a gig!) and takes my order, before telling me that 'These guys rock some ass,' which I think is a compliment.

The Zutons are a strange band, but a very good one. The lads have styled a new Mop Top Liverpool cut, which is less like the Beatles and more like the old grey mops they used to clean the school gym back home and whilst none of them have the looks to challenge Orlando Bloom they've got more talent than Siegfried and Roy's White Tigers I can tell you. In fact Dave McCabe has a voice with real power and resonance. Abi Harding may just stand around for most of the set, parping in on her saxophone just to scare us all every now and again, but she dances around quite sexily so we can forgive her. Their set is so tight now they practically play with their eyes closed. Well, with hair over their eyes anyway. It's the same thing. Almost.

As they continue to impress me it's easy to notice that the effect is spreading as by the time they get round to singing Dirty Dancehall, which is a storming highlight for me, the floor is filling up quite nicely. Dave sweeps his hair aside and says "Thank you Las Vegas. Give it up for the Zutons," and the place goes fucking bananas. There's hoos, there's hollers and there's even, would you believe it a Hoo-Doggies! to be heard and I just can't help but laugh. They finish the set with single, You Will You Won't, which sounds a hundred and ten times better echoing round this chamber than it ever has over my stereo and then wander off to a thrilling ovation. They may be Scousers, but it's great to hear a band from that area take their influences from elsewhere. There is, of course, a Scouse element to their sound, but you'll be reminded of bands like Talking Heads, Devo, Sly and the Family Stone and even some good old Dr. John and John Lee Hooker. They came, they saw and apparently lost at roulette but as my waitress would say, they rocked some ass.

Gomez on the other hand, still have their problems as far as I'm concerned. They've all the ingredients for the perfect front man, only they're divided over three people. Ian Ball has the skinny pretty boy looks but the voice of Walter the Softy. Ben Ottewell has the voice you'd smoke a million Marlboro to have but looks like a public school boy and Tom Gray has bundles of energy and is as mad as a badger, but looks like he's from the same gene pool as David Mellor.

Diplomacy is a hard thing for a band to handle and whilst Gomez have done it admirably, having three singers means that their live sets always seem a little unfocused. All three of them are great performers but they always seem to hold themselves back a bit, as if in fear of hogging the limelight too much. Musically, it's hard to fault them as they sound fantastic. Emerging tonight from behind a red curtain to the hum of Get Miles, the song that started it all in the first place, it's impressive to note how their sound has developed over the years. Get Miles was a great opener for their debut album but tonight they build it up a lot slower, a lot stronger and it sounds a lot richer and deeper than ever before. Sure they've had a few years to mess around with it but it's always a good thing to hear a band develop their songs, no matter how well known they are.

Despite the fact that latest album Split the Difference is what they're supposed to be touring on the back of, it's actually not that well represented in tonight's set with the majority of the show being culled from Bring It On. What is played tonight is the cracking single Silence which is the first Gomez song that doesn't sound like it's made up of three or four different songs patched together. I think it's a welcome thing because, for a while, the tempo changes all started to sound a little forced, as if they felt they had to do it, but Silence shows that they can just create a simple, balls out three minute rock song. And it's great! The Tom Gray led Sweet Virginia doesn't fair so well, sadly. In fact it plods. Dragging itself through the room like a fat man with a limp it seems to last for a fortnight and isn't remotely entertaining until the end when it starts to pick the tempo up a bit. Apart from that however, it would be picky to complain as everything sounds great. Get Myself Arrested is fantastic and brings out the type of audience sing-a-long that only the Americans can provide. Make No Sound is beautiful and Las Vegas Dealer sounds better than ever in it's true setting. The highlight though, as far as I'm concerned is We Don't Know Where We're Going. It's one of those great long rock songs that sound fantastic live. It builds and builds and turns itself into all manner of shapes before hurtling off into oblivion with the speed and ferocity of a Las Vegas taxi driver. The song may not know where it's going, but it's an exhilarating ride. Wonderful.

They leave the stage to rapturous applause and the occasional "Hoodoggies" and sadly return to play California instead of Whipping Picadilly. I'll blame that on the guy who's been standing next to me yelling "Cal-eeeee-forn-yaaaaaah!" After. Every. Single. Song. (Wanker)Eventually he got frustrated and shouted, "Come on this is Las Vegas, play the one fucking song we all came to here." I was glad to point out to him that Las Vegas was in Nevada, not California. Dumb fuck. Cos' of him, the night ended with a whimper, instead of a bang but everyone, including your cantankerous sod of a reviewer went home happy.

In the end the message is the same as last time we saw them. They may not have a frontman, but they sure can play. Whatever you do, don't give up on these guys yet.

Words : Damian Leslie