Gomez, Scala, London

They shoot blanks, don't they?
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The Independent Culture

Why is it that Gomez can't do gigs? In almost every other way, they're an exceptional band. Bring it On, their Mercury prize-winning, platinum-selling debut, is a magical piece of work, with its downbeat yet distinctly inventive take on American roots music. As musicians, they're technically proficient. Their lyrics are smart, and as for Ben Ottewell's richly ravaged voice, it's magnificent; part Tom Waits, part grumbling basset hound. They seem like a nice bunch, too – genuine, sweet-natured and unaffected by their success.

But whenever I see them play – and this is the third time now, so I've really tried – I have to fight the overwhelming desire to lie down in a dark corner and go to sleep. It's not that they don't look the part (although, of course, they don't – five years on, they still look like students trying their luck as musicians before giving it all up for a desk job). It's more that Gomez lack the charisma, animation and electricity that are crucial to live performance. Even at their noisiest, when Tom Gray is bashing the living daylights out of his keyboard and Ottewell is singing so raspily that it sounds as if one more note might silence him for ever, the music's propulsive force seems to peter out somewhere around the edge of the stage. For the audience, it's like watching a show through a misted-up window. You can just about make out the genius in their work, but in a distant, muffled sort of way.

This show is their first in 18 months, and it precedes the release of their album, In Our Gun. It's a record that sees them dragging themselves reluctantly into the new century. Where previous albums have been enlivened with the sounds of cello and horns, this one's all samples, loops and electronic noodling. This could be something to do with the fact that, in the past, they've been criticised for being old before their time.

But Gomez's departure into the technological world doesn't sit well with them. There are a couple of moments during tonight's show where they're unsure of how to start a song – in one instance, they lay bets as to exactly who will cock it up. That it all goes off without a hitch makes no difference by this point. Gomez's uncertainty is infectious.

Gomez tour the UK next month.