Music: Turn on the DIY charm

Gomez Empire, Shepherd's Bush, London Super Furry Animals Academy, Brixton, London Longpigs Heaven, London

In the past 18 months, Gomez have released two albums, won the Mercury Music Prize, and been so highly acclaimed that even Plumbers' Weekly ran an article on how splendid they were, just so it wouldn't feel left out. It's right and proper, then, that the five scruffy Southport students of a year ago have been made over into designer-labelled rock gods and that their concerts are now well-oiled, big-budget stadium extravaganzas.

Only joking. Gomez could still be mistaken for trainee librarians. They still wear untucked T-shirts and trainers. And it's still incredible that these affable nerds should be capable of churning up such brawny, bayou- dwellin', moonshine-sluggin' rock music. The enigma is embodied by Ben Ottewell. He looks as if he had his glasses knocked off almost every day at school, but his voice can be as big and gruff as that of a bear on 40 cigarettes a day.

Gomez's non-image may be one reason why their record sales don't match their reviews. But it's not just a lack of tattoos and stubble that is letting Liquid Skin slide out of the top 40, despite the critics' best efforts to hold it back. The fact is that the album can be an alienating listen. Just when you're tapping your foot to a tune, Gomez will hit the brakes and change time signature. Just when you're singing along, they'll throw the lead vocal to another member of the band. It's all very well to applaud the deftness with which they slip between a dozen different tempos and genres per track, but this relentless complexity can leave you with the feeling that a basketball team are amusing themselves with a game of pig-in-the-middle over your head.

In concert, it's a different matter. Gomez's virtuoso chopping-and-changing is much more accessible when you can see it in front of you - and when you can see how much they obviously enjoy it. It's fascinating to watch the group juggling instruments (metaphorically, I'm afraid), to watch three of them lining up in a row to clap the Spanish rhythm of "Las Vegas Dealer," and to watch two of them playing on different halves of the same synthesiser.

Gomez have retained the informal DIY charm they had in smaller venues, but they've boosted their efforts to include the audience. In particular, Tom Gray, their keyboardist/ guitarist/ singer, is always skipping along the lip of the stage or inviting our participation with some cheesey banter.

The show dipped in the middle, sinking under the weight of one intricate, semi-acoustic folk-rock groove too many, but you can forgive any band who start their encore with a David Hasselhoff tribute slide show.

Super Furry Animals are another group who must prefer to read their press cuttings than their bank statements. Their fame doesn't match their critical standing - and for reasons quite similar to why Gomez are in the same situation. SFA's undoubted ability to write pop hooks is tempered by their unfettered imagination and, for better or worse, their propensity to bound away on loopy detours when you least expect it.

Their music is a Heath Robinson contraption. Glam rock is bolted to bug- eyed psychedelia, electronic bleeps are soldered to steel drums, techno is screwed to nursery rhymes. It's a delight; if their latest album, Guerrilla, doesn't raise a smile, then no record will. That said, it's obvious why it hasn't sold more copies. It's too self-indulgently odd for mainstream success; and while no one would want to curb SFA's creativity, it would be nice if they were more ambitious. Being experimental and irreverent is all very well, but the challenge, surely, is to be experimental and irreverent ... and have hit records.

No one could accuse SFA of being too weirdly complicated in concert. Quite the opposite. On Wednesday they reduced oddball ditties to dull, punk-rock thrashes and reduced themselves from eccentric pioneers to a garage band with a Welsh accent. Their sun-kissed melodies were in there somewhere, but they were buried deep beneath the plodding, amateurish drums, Gruff Rhys's rough falsetto, the venue's gym-hall acoustics and the group's refusal to re-create the technicolour arrangements of their albums - two comedy trumpeters notwithstanding.

There was none of Gomez's matey empathy with the audience. Instead, we had to watch a conveyor belt of lumpen songs grind by with no variation in pacing or dynamics. After a while, my mind wandered to all the crackpot ideas that make SFA such a diverting bunch of people to have around. They sponsor a football team. They've turned up at festivals with a customised tank and an inflatable cartoon devil as big as a house. They hid a CB radio glossary in Guerrilla's packaging. As the evening's ordeal continued, I found myself wondering: they haven't paid a group of lookalikes to murder their tunes, have they?

Completing our trilogy of indie Brit bands who sell fewer records than they should do are the Longpigs. Their debut album, 1996's The Sun is Often Out, did fairly well, but after that they disappeared, leaving me with just two abiding Longpig memories. The first is their singles, "Lost Myself" and "She Said", both of which were epic, post-grunge anthems with a rogue strain of celtic pomp; it's impossible to hear either track without imagining yourself in a stadium waving a tartan banner. The second memory is that, when he was on stage, Crispin Hunt would come across as an arrogant toff with a chip on his shoulder. This was understandable - he has gone through life with the name Crispin Hunt - but off-putting, all the same.

With their second album, it looks as if the Longpigs might fly, after all. Mobile Home is the hangover after the first album's drug-buoyed high. The melodramatic grandeur - "cape-swirling", in their words - has been dented and shaken, and the self-disgusted lyrics are by someone for whom the sun isn't out very often at all. U2 with less self-importance, James in a strop, the Radiohead you can dance to ... Mobile Home's tortured torch songs and funky glam struts boast the double whammy of Richard Hawley's skewed, Television-inspired guitar and Hunt's sobbing and soaring voice, which is - once you've got past the Thom Yorke and Bono comparisons - redolent of David Bowie singing about Mars and Roger Waters singing about walls.

Seeing the Longpigs live confirms that these are not Britpop also-rans, but an intense, intelligent guitar band with fire in their pork bellies. The gig wasn't quite a triumph, mind you. Many of the songs still have a tendency towards celtic bombast, and Hunt still has what you might call a losing personality. Anyone who has seen the comedian Simon Munnery in his League Against Tedium character may be interested to learn that there is a ranting megalomaniac just like him in real life.

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Adolf Hitler's 1914 watercolour 'Altes Rathaus' and the original invoice from 1916

Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible