Review: Jose Gonzalez enchants St. Petersburg's State Theatre with heartfelt indie folk
It’s the little things. That’s what made Jose Gonzalez’s concert on Tuesday at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg such a joy to behold.
Tiny handclaps and fingersnaps. Soft bells and percussion rattles. Clicks of a clave or wood block.
Gonzalez could get away without any of this – his songs are so intensely intimate, delivered in such a hush, that he could tour America with only a guitar and most fans might not mind, or even notice.
But the addition of a four-piece backing band did wonders for Gonzalez’s music. Though the accoutrements those musicians offered were often sparse, they provided such depth and texture that the full and swaying State was left enchanted by each song, and Gonzalez was left grinning ear to ear after his first solo show in Tampa Bay.
The Swedish singer-songwriter has been active in indie-rock circles since the late ’90s with his band Junip, but he’s gained cult status worldwide over the past dozen years for his stark solo folk songs, particularly his covers (The Knife’s Heartbeats, Massive Attack’s Teardrop, Kylie Minogue’s Hand On Your Heart).
Opening song Crosses, from his 2003 debut EP, was an example of Gonzalez at his solo best, his singular acoustic strumming and plucking infusing the song with warm and heartfelt tenderness.
But none of that warmth was sacrificed when the full band joined Gonzalez for second song What Will, which offered a head-bobbing and shape-shifting groove that nodded to the singer’s Argentinian ancestry.
Nearly every song thereafter was amplified by the presence of his musicians. Sometimes it was the harmonies from guitarist Jakob Albinsson and others, as on the Americana hymn Every Age or With the Ink of a Ghost. Sometimes it was percussionists Andres Renteria and Joel Wastberg driving an urgent, swelling tension on Down the Line; or clicking out a seductive Bill Withers groove on Stories We Build, Stories We Tell.
Often it was multi-instrumentalist James Mathe, Parked behind a Korg synthesizer, he was tasked with snapping fingers on Hand On Your Heart, ticking a set of claves on the ominous Teardrop, leading a fan clap-along on Leaf Off/The Cave, sifting a shaker on Let It Carry You and tapping tiny bells on epically dreamlike closer Cycling Trivialities. On paper, none of that sounds like a major contribution. But everything Mathe did fleshed each song out tremendously, making the music feel like it being pumped straight through your noise-canceling Beats By Dre. For his efforts, Mathe was even rewarded with a moment in the spotlight to perform Home, a song by his solo project Barbarossa.
Fans screamed for more after each magical number, so much so that Gonzalez beamed through his beard nearly all evening long. He even extended the encore by one song just to fit in the graceful and magnificent Cycling Trivialities, a lush and lengthy coda that no one wanted to end.
The night ended in hugs and rapturous applause, louder than anything Gonzalez and his band performed all night. It’s funny how a song so soft and serene can prompt a response so loud. Then again, it always is the little things that make the difference.
-- Jay Cridlin