Review: Jose Gonzalez rides a vibe of gentle, mesmerizing energy
From the stage of the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday night, the Swedish songwriter, singer and guitarist Jose Gonzalez and his humming, precisely attuned quartet sketched out his particular version of folk-rock. Strumming and laying out delicate patterns on acoustic guitar during the second of two nights at the theater and the final night of his spring tour, the artist and band presented an elegant, often-percussive overview of the work he’s made over the last decade-plus.
Riding propellant but gentle rhythms that seemed to glow with warmth, the group generated mesmerizing energy, much of it courtesy of songs from Gonzalez’s new album, “Vestiges and Claws.” At peak power, they nudged a sea of heads to wobble and groove in gentle unison along with ruminations on, among other grand ideas, fate and fatalism, karmic retribution and “the stories we tell.”
With flowing cadence, Gonzalez during set closer “Leaf Off/The Cave” explored the nature of ... well ... nature:
How the light feeds life
What makes up you and I
What it takes to thrive
What we need to survive
How we flourish and die
What it means to be alive
Inside “Afterglow,” the group created a slow-tempoed groove while Gonzalez reveled in both the futility and hope that drives the creative instinct. “All of this will be gone someday,” he sang, while behind him musicians clapped on beat. “You and me and everyone we know / Leaving these memories and traces for the afterglow.”
Within that glow was a sound that transcended borders: a little bit of Brazilian 1960s “tropicalia” pop here, a Nick Drake-suggestive hue there, a touch of understated tango swing courtesy of Gonzalez’s Argentine heritage, Joni Mitchell-inspired devotion to pastoral openness, all guided by Gonzalez’s delicate voice and meditations.
Some of these meditations occurred in snapshot moments. “The Nest,” a song from his 2007 album “In Our Nature” that he performed solo, captured the image of creatures building a nest. Others, like “Every Age,” ruminated on the passage of time, moving from micro to macro while his band offered bridges to connect the two.
The artist, who is 36 and has the shaggy black hair and beard of hip literature professor, doesn’t make rage music, rarely raised his voice and never stomped on a distortion pedal to ignite big, scream-along choruses. You didn’t hear a Gonzalez song move into a 32-bar rap or sample modernist pop tones, didn’t witness his devoted fanbase crowd surfing. Rather, the artist focused on a particular vibe, and the result was a consistency that at its least successful bordered on retread. Both tonally and melodically, a few tracks within the set tended to blur together despite their rhythmic variations and his thematic restlessness.
Dotted throughout were renditions of songs by artists including the Velvet Underground (“I’ll Be Your Mirror,” featuring a guest appearance by opener Olof Arnalds), the Knife and Massive Attack, the selections of which further helped to define the breadth of influences at play.
The best of these covers was the band’s take on Arthur Russell’s “This Is How We Walk on the Moon.” Recorded for the long-running “Red, Hot ...” series of tribute albums to benefit HIV research, the artists’ take mixed an up-tempo rhythm with a lyrically joyous ode to the transcendent nature of dancing.
“Every step is moving me up,” sang Gonzalez, channeling the late Russell’s spirit. “One tiny, tiny, tiny move / It’s all I need and I jump over.” As the band rolled through conga-driven thrills, Gonzalez moved to the chorus: “This is how we walk on the moon.”
By the evening’s end, we knew the move well, and the variations seemed infinite.
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