José González is a Swedish Argentinean folk singer. His only full length album, 2005’s Veneer is stripped down and bare aside from his vocals and acoustic guitar. It sounds like it could be composed in the forests of Sweden by someone whose main diet for weeks had consisted of lingonberries.
The vocals themselves do not climb octaves or demonstrate tremendous fluctuations or range. It’s the guitar parts that win the listener over, the interspersing of two different melodies at once and the pitter patter of the finger picking sometimes juxtaposed with a more constant strumming. There’s an unmistakeable tension sometimes in the melody lines and lyrics just to keep things interesting.
Playing to a full audience, José González began his set with “Deadweight on Velveteen” followed by “Hints” before delving into “Slow Moves.” I can’t recall one song off of Veneer he didn’t play. Highlights included “Lovestain” and “Stay in the Shade.” This was my second time seeing José González and I enjoyed much more so than my first time, which was at Intonation Music Festival. The chords are lovely indoors or out but the larger music festival didn’t suit him as well. For one thing, it was more difficult to hear him if you were farther back and for another the reflective gentleness of his style just doesn’t lend as well to thousands of standing, overheated, and cramped fans. In some ways, the music lends itself better to a situation of quiet isolation.
If you get a chance to see José González perform live, you will find that the songs sound very similar to how they sound recorded. He is able to carry out the same vocals and intricate melodies and it is disarming as such. Yet, a real letdown is that he has very little banter and interaction with the audience. He doesn’t come off as playful or even vaguely engaging, but instead quite shy. Although I have many great things to say about Veneer and the songs he has created, there are too few of them. Some nice stalling tactics in between songs would have come in handy. For example, as jokes don’t seem to be really be his thing, he could tell stories or read poems or something...anything! The time just goes by too fast. He also played the same covers as he did at Intonation: Kylie Minogue’s “Hand on Your Heart” and Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.” Although these were nice to hear again, it would have been better if he had played different ones than he had previously. The one new additional cover was a one song encore performance of “Small Town Boy” by Bronski Beat.