During SXSW I had my first opportunity to see what the buzz surrounding Jose Gonzalez was all about. Matt DuFour's current man-crush performed at the Levi's/FADER Trading Post in Austin, which was awesome, just not quite the right setting for such a soft-spoken, acoustic musician. In fact, as quiet as Gonzalez is, the only proper venue for him is a space that is totally small and intimate, like a tiny NYC studio apartment.
Last night Gonzalez took the stage at Joe's Pub, which gave him an ideal place to sing his mellow tunes. Joe's is easily one of my favorite venues in NYC, with fantastic sound and an always attentive audience. Unfortunately, I was stuck standing at the bar last night, which makes seeing the stage a bit challenging. A ten-dollar whiskey and coke later, it was time for Gonzalez to begin.
I had a love/hate relationship with his performance. I was floored by his masterful guitar playing and introspective lyrics, but his stage presence lacks any real spark. As beautiful as his songs are, such as his live rendition of "Stay In The Shade", I was a little disappointed in that he seemed to be on auto-pilot, as if he was in the room by himself. There was o banter, no stories, and he never looked at the audience. He remained slightly hunched over with his eyes glued to his guitar for just about the entire set.
It was during his encore that Gonzalez finally showed signs of life, especially during my favorite of the evening, "Hand On Your Heart". This particular song contained just a little something extra at Joe's. Perhaps it was the stronger melody and more pronounced vocals. In fact, he almost reminded me of singer-songwriter Jude during this particular song. This could have easily been off Jude's amazing album No One Is Really Beautiful with Gonzalez's slightly higher pitched voice and acoustic strumming.
The other highlight of the set for me was his cover of Massive Attack's "Teardrop", which I had never heard before. I have heard other covers of this song before, but nobody has nailed the dark, moody beauty of the song as Gonzalez did last night. It was a perfect way to end his somewhat brief performance.
I applaud any musician that can captivate an audience with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a microphone. The audience at Joe's Pub was so silent during the show, the only things I heard were his voice, his guitar, the metronome-like tapping of his foot and the occasional glass at the bar being filled with ice. All in all it was a great night of music, making me finally understand what all the fuss over Jose Gonzalez has been all about.