Rock: Why Mark should soon be in the Money

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The Independent Culture
WHEN YOU first put on Money Mark's second album, Push the Button (Mo Wax), you hear exactly what you'd expect from the Beastie Boys' keyboard player: cheesey, squelchy, possibly ironic lounge-funk, with vocoded Dalek vocals for added cheesiness. It's guaranteed to put a grin on your face, but if Mark Ramos Nishita hadn't turned up at the Beasties' studio to do some carpentry a few years ago, and ended up staying on as their fourth member, you'd hardly call it the stuff of one of the year's best albums, as Push the Button has already been hailed in some magazines.

Then the second track comes on. It's a wistful Merseybeat ditty called "Too Like You". Soon after is "Tomorrow Will Be Like Today", which sounds like Elvis Costello with a little help from Teenage Fanclub and the Velvet Underground, followed by a bossa nova called "Bossa Nova", then a track that could be by the Byrds, another that could be by Barry White, another by the Spice Girls and another by Spiritualized, and all of them linked by the same lazy, lo-fi, stroll-on-the-beach vibe. By the end of an album that is everything you'd hoped Cornershop's When I Was Born For a Seventh Time would be and more, you have to shred your preconceptions, and accept that if there is any coolness-by-association going on, it's the Beasties who are getting the better part of the deal.

Mark's show at the Hanover Grand in London on Monday was even better than his album. Well-played as Push the Button is, its joyous pop songs are all the better when filled out by five musicians capable of covering every imaginable combination of keyboards, guitars, record decks and percussion. Not that there was ever any danger of their upstaging Mark himself. Whether he's singing, playing guitar, pulling fat, squashy sounds from an electric piano, or drumming along to a tune he sings with a microphone jammed in his mouth, he retains an aura of effortless, offbeat cool which, like Beck's, is enhanced by its sheer unlikelihood. In grey slacks and a light blue medical tunic, Mark looks old enough to force the Beastie Boys to change their name. In short, he looks exactly like Mr Sulu from Star Trek, who has not, as far as I know, been considered a style icon before now.

He appears on Beck's next album, and the pair share a knack for live entertainment. Mark makes comedy, originality and sheer talent seem as natural to him as sleeping, and thereby gives me the luxury of being able to complete this review simply by listing some of the things he got up to. So ... he clambered onto the stage from the audience, and performed the opening number with only a beatbox, a microphone and the squeals of controlled feedback that can be had by holding one close to the other. He sat a tape-recorder on his keyboard, taped himself as he played "Cry", and then tossed the instant live bootleg into the audience. He performed the jungle freak-out of "Powerhouse" in complete darkness, except for one handheld spotlight. And, distinguishing himself from almost every other pop personality, he even preceded his anti-journalist jibe (always guaranteed to raise a cheer) with the qualification, "There are good journalists and there are bad journalists."

He can afford to be merciful, mind you, considering the sort of write- ups he gets. The IoS is too dignified for the adolescent hyperbole in which some publications indulge, so suffice it to say that Money Mark is one of the few people who justify the continued existence of live music shows in the Nineties.

Given that Mark is half Mexican, I wonder what he'd make of Gomez, five men in their early twenties from Merseyside, who have overcome a genetic predisposition for the Beatles in favour of the scuffed, dusty sounds of Tom Waits, Dr John and Gram Parsons. It can't be easy to keep a straight face while singing, "I know that I'm no head honcho / But I'll keep you warm in my silky poncho", especially if you're a group of Scousers who probably can't get served in pubs without proof-of-age cards. But Gomez's acclaimed debut album, Bring It On (Hut), is full of swampy, voodoo grooves, slide guitars and lonesome-prairie acoustic picking, often topped by Ben Ottewell's whisky- barrel-chested, high-tar-throated growl. He is the most Adrian Mole-ish of the lot, but his voice is that of a black American sexuagenarian - Joe Cocker, for instance.

Okay, so Gomez aren't the first young Englishmen to sound nothing like young Englishmen, and several critics have invoked the Rolling Stones defence, ie, Gomez are no more fake than Mick Jagger's Muddy Waters impression. But the Rolling Stones started putting on deep Southern accents 35 years ago, when most of their fans had never heard the records being copied. Pretending to be an old blues man in 1998 is a different kettle of bourbon from pretending to be an old blues man in 1962.

Much as I'd like to persevere with this fascinating debate, seeing Gomez live is not conducive to reasoned analysis. They're too much fun. The way the three lead vocalists take it in turns to chip in a phrase (although Ottewell's voice is the remarkable one), the way they swap around instruments to fit each song, the rare skill and complexity of their playing, which would have them branded as a prog-rock group if they weren't so dedicated to visceral, delirious rock'n'roll noise ... at London's Dingwalls on Thursday, Gomez really didn't sound like any other band.

They write some extraordinarily pretty tunes, too. Even "Tijuana Lady" has a melody enchanting enough to divert attention from the lyrics about chasing your baby round ol' May-he-co. And the only whiff of the Beatles comes from Tom Gray's Lennonish quips. The fact that he and Ottewell look like Rick Moranis's children only adds to the novelty.

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