Reviewed on Saturday February 6 (photo by Prudence Upton)
The Opera House has cornered the market on indie with its 2016 lineup. Just a week after Joanna Newsom graced us with her presence, we were treated to the wonder of Swedish guitarist José González with a full band to support him.
González rarely spoke – in fact, one of the few times he did, it was simply to say “bless you” to someone who sneezed in the crowd – but this didn’t seem to stem from the same shyness exhibited by Newsom. Rather, his humility and desire to let the music speak for itself created an atmosphere unlike many other concerts at the House. It may be nostalgia speaking, but the warmth in the room was effusive.
It was in the gentle presence of the band members, the generosity of the setlist, the dazzling light display. There were no rows of pre-tuned instruments, no guitar technicians standing by; just González, tuning in front of us as quickly and effortlessly as his fingers plucked out each new song. Every element was simple, even understated, but perfectly gauged. The whole performance felt like one long, warm embrace.
It started with ‘Crosses’, arguably his finest track, which José played solo to rapturous applause. González’s band (including James Mathé of Barbarossa fame) joined him for a few Vestiges & Claws cuts before adding their own flourishes to the songwriter’s back catalogue.
González, better known in these parts for his solo career, is wonderfully suited to the band environment. And what a band he brought with him – these musicians were almost exploratory in the tenderness with which they approached each song and drew out its intricacies, its pulsing rhythms and its fragile harmonies.
The covers were out in force, of course, with Kylie Minogue’s ‘Hand On Your Heart’ joining Arthur Russell’s ‘This Is How We Walk On The Moon’ and a handful of Junip tracks; and, of course, González’ signature takes on ‘Teardrop’ and ‘Heartbeats’, which closed out the pre-encore set. In a truly rare move by any solo artist, González even took a back seat and invited Mathé to perform ‘Home’, a Barbarossa track that showcased the keyboardist’s heartbreaking vocal skill.
It would have been well worth seeing this sold-out show twice in a row, if only to deny ourselves the arduous wait until González wraps us up in his music again.