The first time I heard Jose Gonzalez, I knew he was a special talent. His completely unique and ingenious blend of flamenco and classical guitar techniques with very modern, thoughtful, artistic songwriting and an exceedingly beautiful singing voice is undeniably magical. Though I had seen Jose Gonzalez on two previous occasions, I knew Sunday night's performance in Chicago would be the first time that I would truly be able to appreciate this incredible musician's talent in a live setting.
It's all about the venue. My two previous encounters with Gonzalez were at outdoor venues and with the chatty crowd and various other background noises, the intricate finger picking and angelic vocals were lost in the shuffle. Sunday night, however, Gonzalez graced the stage for a very special performance at The Lakeshore Theater. Typically reserved for proper theatrical performances, the 300+ capacity venue comes equipped with cushy, comfortable seats for all of its patrons. Liquor is served, but the bar is located outside of the music room, as to avoid any unwanted background noise. The lighting is sparse. The sound is better than good and the room was perfectly filled to capacity with thoughtful, respectful and (better yet) QUIET fans that just wanted to politely sit in their seats and witness the magic of Jose Gonzalez.
The members of the crowd weren't the only people in the room who didn't have much to say. Gonzalez barely spoke throughout the night, except to occasionally grace us with a song title before he played it, and once to let us know that there were exactly five more songs remaining in his set, saying (in endearingly imperfect English) "OK, I have five more songs. I usually count down from two... but tonight, five." This was the longest string of consecutive words Jose would speak the entire evening, and it even got a chuckle out of the audience.
Most songs were pulled from Jose's various EPs as well as his debut full length, Veneer. Kicking things off with "Hints," Jose made it clear right away that mistakes would not be tolerated. Each song that followed was just as perfectly executed as the first, never mind the fact that the level of complexity of his guitar work was awe-inspiring.
"Hand On Your Heart" (Kylie Minogue) and "Heartbeats" (The Knife) were two of four cover songs that Jose treated us to, the former coming from the most recent Stay In The Shade EP, and the latter being culled from Veneer. These two songs show Jose's ability to completely transform a song into something almost completely his own. But it was his covers of Bronsky Beat's "Smalltown Boy" and Massive Attack's "Teardrop" that really proved just how truly amazing this artist is. Like a thunderstorm of acoustic brilliance, Gonzalez can usher forth a seemingly impossible array of sounds using only his acoustic guitar and tapping foot.
The show ended after a two-song encore and Jose shyly said thank you to the cheering crowd before ducking behind the stage curtain. As the intellectual indie rock crowd (with a light sprinkling of scenesters and one Mike Watt) headed through the narrow exit, comments like "he's so amazing," "that was incredible," and "how does he do that?," could be heard from just about every passer-by.
Photos by Dorothy Hong