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Ian Ball - vocals, guitar, harmonica Paul Blackburn - bass, guitars, vocals Tom Gray - vocals, guitar, keyboards Ben Ottewell - vocals, guitar Olly Peacock - drums, percussion

From the moment they first appeared, it was obvious that Gomez do things differently. Stumbling into the spotlight while Britpop still loomed large, the band seemed blissfully unaware of the musical zeitgeist in their native UK. Instead, the five-piece sprung out of Merseyside, England with an eclectic cache of psychedelic and blues-influenced music so organic-sounding that they almost seemed to be doing it by accident. With their 1998 debut album, Bring It On, Gomez quickly went from university students to overnight successes. No one quite knew what to make of the disc at the time, but they knew it was great. The release garnered the band both critical acclaim and an instant fan base on both sides of the Atlantic.

Actually, it wasn't just the disc: it was the combination of the album and the group's shockingly good live shows. The fact that Gomez features three lead vocalists -- Ben Ottewell, Ian Ball, and Tom Gray (all guitarists, as well) -- provides for plenty of diversity on record, but live, it makes for a truly different full-band experience. With no fixed focus on stage, Gomez shows instead offer a real live spectacle, with each band member so involved that audiences can't help but feel involved as well. The group -- rounded out by drummer Olly Peacock and bassist Paul Blackburn -- made their fans distinctly aware from the get-go that these shows were not just performances, but actual events.

Clearly, the idea of an official live album made perfect sense. However, even though both band and fans reached that realization early on, it took another seven years for it to come to fruition. In the meantime, Gomez released three more albums (1999's Liquid Skin, 2002's In Our Gun, and 2004's Split the Difference) and a B-sides/rarities collection (2000's Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline), toured the world multiple times, and even parted ways with their record label.

Back in England, Hut, the EMI subsidiary the band had been signed to since the start of its career, ceased operations, leaving them with an unfamiliar label team to handle the release of Split the Difference. This didn't work out well on either end, and soon Gomez found themselves set loose both at home and abroad. But rather than get upset, the quintet just did what they always do, and took the order to "hit the road" for all its literal worth.

"We've been trying to do a live album ever since we started," explains Ball. "We always knew that our studio stuff and our live stuff were going to sound radically different from each other, because we don't really play the songs live in the studio. Live, you get used to playing the tracks so much, and they twist and they turn, and they turn into different tunes, basically."

Being that it was mostly label difficulties that had always gotten in the way of putting together a live release, though, the band took its new free-agent status as a sign that the timing was finally right. After all, Gomez had been successfully touring on their own for quite some time already, so there was no reason they couldn't take matters further into their hands. Wasting little time, a three-night stand at The Fillmore in San Francisco was booked for January 2005, with a lineup supplemented by frequent collaborator Dajon Everett (percussion, keys), and the project took off.

"We left the label, and about three months later the album was recorded," reveals Ball. "We didn't really think about who was going to release it or how it was going to get released until it was done. It was more of a case of first things first, just getting the shows recorded. I think we originally were just going to press it up ourselves and sell it at the shows -- and then we realized how difficult doing all that is."

The answer to that dilemma quickly came in the form of ATO Records, who stepped in and offered to release the resulting two-disc Out West, showing a faith in the band that they hadn't seen from a label in some time. Spanning the band's entire career, the 20-song collection includes live renditions of everything from "Get Miles" -- the first track off their first album -- to the more recent "Do One" and "These Three Sins," stopping off along the way to include live favorites like "Get Myself Arrested," and even covers of Tom Waits' "Going Out West" and Nick Drake's "Black Eyed Dog."

"It was kind of inevitable that everything was going to get included," says Ball. "At those shows, we played something like 65 songs across the three nights. Most of them were just all over the place. We did a lot of random stuff, really. There's a couple of tracks on there that we've hardly ever played, but the versions just turned out really good, so they ended up making the cut."

Moreover, while providing a solid overview of -- and, for newer fans, an introduction to -- the band's output to date, the collection perfectly captures the feel of the Gomez live experience. From altered arrangements and comedic interludes to onstage banter, moments of impromptu improvisation, and extreme audience enthusiasm, Out West makes it clear that this band, which actually released its first album without having ever played any live shows, has become almost the opposite of the studio group it once was. It's plain to see now why Gomez have grown into one of those bands people are fanatical about seeing in the concert setting. In fact, when they were recording the shows, the band even offered special package deals to fans who wanted to attend every night.

"You could buy a three-night ticket, basically," says Ball. "We're getting into that area now, where there's a fair few people who attend 50-percent of the shows on a tour. I don't know how they do it." He pauses, before joking, "I don't know why they possibly would want to do that."

All you have to do to figure that one out, however, is take a listen to these two discs, and then catch a Gomez show for yourself. And remember, it's never too early to start packing. For band and fans alike, the road beckons.

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