- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Gomez emphasizes eclecticism over ego, craftsmanship over showmanship.

Unlike most groups, there’s no frontman who sings the majority of the songs and whose individual image overshadows his band mates. Three of Gomez’s five members contribute vocals that range from bluesy and rugged to lullaby smooth. The quintet visits the 9:30 Club tonight.

Usually, the person who writes the song or conceives the melody records the vocals, says singer-guitarist Ben Ottewell. Plenty of times during the course of the band’s seven-plus years Mr. Ottewell attempted the vocals, only to recognize the tune surpassed his range. In those cases, Tom Gray or Ian Ball step in.

“There’s not too much ego where that’s concerned,” says Mr. Ottewell, speaking from his home in Brighton on the southern coast of England.

The loose-knit approach began early in the group’s career, when it focused on recording songs in the studio rather than playing in front of audiences accustomed to gazing at a lead performer. The mission to write the best possible songs gave Gomez the freedom to experiment with multiple voices. Mr. Ottewell doesn’t speak casually about the approach. “It’s just something that we have,” he says.

The group’s most recent album, 2002’s “In Our Gun,” showcases a band that wants to taste every musical style and leave all boundaries behind. The opener, “Shot Shot,” throbs like the floor of a packed dance club, full of bass and snarky lyrics. “In Our Gun” wraps the theme of complacency in a warm blanket of acoustic guitar, then unravels it with a fuzzed-out, head-spinning coda.

Like Starsailor, which appears at the 9:30 Club on Saturday, Gomez enjoys a wider audience at home in Britain than it does in America. The band has won four significant awards in England, including a Mercury Music Award for its 1998 debut, “Bring It On.”

Mr. Ottewell responds modestly when asked to define the level of success he’d like to achieve in the United States. He and his mates just want to come over and perform, he says. “There are no real goals, just to carry on” with playing energetic, memorable live shows.

Gomez began its most recent U.S. tour in Boston on Monday and will play 17 dates across the country, finishing in Anaheim, Calif., on Feb. 12. Mr. Ottewell expects the band to return to the states after the release of its fourth studio album at the end of May or early June.

The band mates, including bassist-guitarist-vocalist Paul Blackburn and drummer-percussionist Olly Peacock, were still working on an album title earlier this month. Previous album names, such as 1999’s “Liquid Skin” and 2000’s “Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline,” popped to mind at the very last minute, Mr. Ottewell says.

• • •

“I’m inspired by bringing a theatrical or creative approach to music,” says Angela Melkisethian, one half of local electronic band Hott Beat. The theatrics encompass stage names — Hottessa for Miss Melkisethian — and funky outfits. She wears a large mask painted with a female face during concerts. Jason Barnett plays keyboards in his sunglasses and visor, and he’s been known to sport a retro white suit with gold stars.

“It’s all about creating characters,” Miss Melkisethian says during a phone interview.

Hott Beat, which formed last summer, brings its performance-art inspired show to the Black Cat on Sunday.

Hott Beat’s stage act will evolve with its sound, a meeting of Hottessa’s raw-nerved vocals with bright keyboard blasts that whirl like the manic MIDI soundtracks to ‘80s arcade games. The band has recorded seven tracks for its first album, “A Hott Mess,” to be released during the spring or summer of this year. Miss Melkisethian and Mr. Barnett will record six or seven additional songs in Arlington, and then the group will travel to a Brooklyn, N.Y., studio to add sound effects and wrap up the mix. Hott Beat wants the end result to mirror its live sound. Miss Melkisethian envisions “a very dancy, fun, whimsical kind of album.”

She admits to being “addicted” to wearing the oversized face, with its painted red lips, blonde hair and black bandit’s mask around the eyes. Miss Melkisethian didn’t craft the mask to make a political statement, but she sees recognizes a deeper meaning now.

“There’s so much emphasis on how you look,” she says, especially for a woman performing in front of an audience. Judgments based on appearance are taken “out of the equation when I wear the mask.”

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