I’m still not not entirely sure what to make of the image projected behind the stage at Swedish folk-rocker Josè Gonzalez’s concert.
Much like the singer’s work, the piece is layered: an amalgamation of seascape, mountain range and space. I will openly admit that until two weeks ago I was something of a Josè Gonzalez virgin. The only song I was familiar with was Heartbeats. Despite having only two weeks of heavy listening under my belt, it’s clear Gonzalez’s music is accessible even if you don’t have any idea of what to expect. Chevron Festival Gardens was a surprisingly satisfying setting, as the noise of traffic passing by and the music pounding from a nearby dining strip were all drained away. Gonzalez has a way of making you forget about your surroundings and letting your mind wander, guided by the soulful, often sorrowful, sounds of his crooning voice, synced perfectly with unobtrusive backing vocals and four-piece band.
The show opened with Crosses, a piece which showcased how Gonzalez can command respect and silence with his soft, drawling voice and repetitive yet absorbing guitar work. The song doesn’t overstay its welcome, serving as a pleasant appetiser.
The main meal is met with a surge of applause before being devoured, as the audience clamoured alongside the pulsing percussion and Gonzalez’s lone playing.
Throughout What Will it becomes apparent he has a knack for treading the fine line between a consistently entertaining performance and teetering over into self-indulgence. The song takes a slight tempo change midway through, as Gonzalez’s backing guitarist seemingly duels with him for aural dominance. Returning to its mellow beginnings for the outro, the song fades out with a whisper rather than a harsh cry. I never thought I’d say this about a Kylie Minogue song, but despite the warmth in the air, Gonzalez’s cover of Hand on Your Heart sent a chill down my spine. Leaving the band behind (with the exception of one member’s backing vocals) in favour of a solo performance, Gonzalez gradually builds on his playing, creating something that is layered and complex.
Quite different from anything that came before, and adding a bit of energy to what had since been a rather sombre affair, Gonzalez’s performance of his band Junip’s Walking Lightly showed Gonzalez’s versatility, proved that he could rock out with his rocks out. The droning synthesiser and powerful yet measured drumming combined, while Gonzalez’s signature guitar licks took a backseat. This created a pleasant, upbeat affair, an engaging interlude after the dour tracks that came before. Audience interaction was sparse, but when it did occur, Gonzalez seemed to enjoy a joke or two (“Do you like the lasers? I love lasers.”), showing he was only melancholy in his songs. There was nothing to joke about in Heartbeats, a deeply personal affair in which elegant, subdued guitar work was met with the sweet chiming of a xylophone. Of the three encore performances that followed, the finale, Down the Line, was like a torrent, snaring the audience with its overpowering force. This is where the band shone, getting into a solid groove, the thrum of the percussion ringing out even after the performance wound down. The last line of Heartbeats may be ‘Wouldn’t be good enough for me’, but Jose Gonzalez’s striking, nuanced performance was more than good enough for me.