One eskimOKristian Leontiou seemed uncomfortable in his role as frontman for One eskimO. He appeared painfully shy, constantly turning from the audience and muttering the occasional "thank you" without making eye contact. Drummer Adam Falkner showed a little more energy, swinging his brushes or mallets, but was still relatively restrained. Guitarist Peter Rinaldi and bass player Jamie Sefton were completely engrossed in their own playing.
With stage presence a weakness, there were still some great strengths. The instrumentation and arrangements were quite interesting: Falkner used some boxes as percussion in addition to his normal drums, Sefton threw in some flugelhorn on some of the songs, and samples and loops were scattered throughout the set. This gave the dreamy, Brit pop/soul a unique flavor.
Another strength is that Leontiou's voice is strong, sounding somewhat like Peter Gabriel (especially in cooperation with the heavily syncopated R&B grooves) or Murray Head. When his accent came through, as it did on a couple of songs, you might even think of Phil Collins.
My favorite song was Simpleday. It starts out with a riff reminiscent of Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed), but the vocals sound more like the chorus of Allstar (Smashmouth). It's more subtle than either one, with nice falsetto backup vocals, the flugelhorn, and some shimmery synth washes. Taken together, it sounds like "standing out in the dark by yourself" music.
The crowd pleaser was their single, Kandi. The Candi Staton sample is layered in perfectly and the effect is hypnotically compelling, a dream indie soul feel. This is very strong. Many of the other songs work at mining this space, too, although not quite as effectively.
GomezWe heard a cover of Whippin' Piccadilly, a song off the first Gomez album, before the show started. It didn't sound like the cover artist spoke much English, but the Hawaiian feel of their version set a good mood. When the band came out into the faint haze of (medicinal?) marijuana smoke, Tom Gray quipped, "It smells nice in here" and they were off into Revolutionary Kind.
Their live album, Out West gives a good sense of their concert sound. The arrangements are a little looser than the studio versions and they tend to emphasize more of their psychedelic, jam side. The songs are all recognizable, but a little more interesting.
Throughout the night, they played material from their whole career, from Bring It On (Whippin' Piccadilly, Tijuana Lady) to last years A New Tide (Airstream Driver, Other Plans, etc). They even included some older odds and ends, like Machismo and Bring Your Lovin' Back Here.A strong part of Gomez' appeal is the mix of vocal sounds, from Ben Ottewell's world weary velvet rasp to Ian Ball's youthful idealist to Tom Gray's power pop perfection. Each voice brings the right personality to their lead songs and the others fall in behind it and support it well. Ottewell's voice on Tijuana Lady added the perfect emotional depth. They also did some interesting reverb processing on the vocals and drums to fill out the verses, then switching to a drier sound on the chorus. This hints at the other part of their allure: their ability to balance noisy psychedelia and a pop sensitivity.
The astonishing part of Gomez' live show was how smoothly they pushed through their setlist. They changed out guitars on almost every song, but handled this with the grace of a NASCAR pit crew, leaving no sense of waiting. Each change was planned and choreographed but it didn't feel stiff or over-rehearsed. The songs themselves felt loose and open, by contrast. They also nailed the audience connection part of the show, too. Other bands may perform so effortlessly, but they rarely show off with so many changes.
The whole show was great, but there were some pleasant surprises. Meet Me In the City had a nasty, deep down blues feel, like a ZZ Top track. They kept the tight harmony vocals of the studio version and dragged out the jam a bit, adding a great organ part. Girlshapedlovedrug was also strong. In the encore of How We Operate, the a capella start kicked into a harder vibe. The wah-wah solo, shimmery guitars, driving drum syncopation, and pacing bassline fit together perfectly.
It was an ideal night for a black and tan, made on the spot, with precise separation between the Bass and Guinness.
More photos available on my Flickr.