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José González - Shepherds Bush Empire, London
González' music is both simple and complex; the bare-bones songwriting style contrasts with the sheer technical brilliance of his playing
It's amazing what a spot of high-profile TV advertising exposure can do for you. When José González' debut album 'Veneer' was originally released in the UK back in spring of last year, it passed largely unnoticed, but tonight, thanks to the Sony ad-fuelled success of recent single 'Heartbeats', the Swedish singer-songwriter is playing to a sold-out Sheperd's Bush Empire as part of a week-long UK tour - and tickets are like gold dust.

Fellow scandanavian solo artist El Perro De Mar (aka Sarah Assbring) is tonight's support. Augmented by a seated keyboard player and guitarist, she drifts through an acoustic set composed of folky laments characterised by an awkward, artsy feel and a sweet, clear voice reminiscent of Kate Bush. Sadly, the gathering crowd don't show Sarah the respect her music deserves, and her performance is all but drowned out by the low murmer of audience chatter.

As befitting a gig with two such coffee-table artistes as these, it's an all-seated affair, and a distinctly bookish crowd is in attendance. At what other gig could you spot a member of the audience reading Dostoevsky between acts ?

As the headline set begins, José González cuts a lonely figure on stage, dwarfed by two huge shadows of himself on the back wall of the venue. But a few bars into set-opener 'Deadweight On Velveteen', it's clear this performance will more than fill the void. González' music is both simple and complex; the bare-bones songwriting style contrasts with the sheer technical brilliance of his playing.

Like one of his influences Nick Drake, González' vocals sound unfailingly polite, as if he's afraid to offend us. There is no between-song banter, no posturing, no "look at me" histrionics from this guy, and this isn't so much a show as a recital - for much of the note-perfect set, if you were to close your eyes you could easily be listening to the CD at home. But, as 'Heartbeats' begins, the backdrop is flooded with a rolling projection of vividly colourful summer flowers; twee, perhaps, but in synchronisation with the music, the visuals compensate for the physical stillness of the player.

It's not until the beautiful, soaring cover of Massive Attack's 'Teardrops' and an encore of 'Crosses' (which inspires a standing ovation) that González' stage presence matches the music. "Sorry if I haven't been talking that much, but I'm sure feeling pretty good" are his parting words, and well he might; tonight he's pulled off a masterful musical performance, and his audience clearly adore him.
~Chris Watkeys

written by on 2/3/2006 12:00:00 AM

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