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It was around 10:15 at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg when the lights dimmed and Swedish troubadour, Jose Gonzalez, quietly slid across the stage to an open microphone. He waved his hand, bid the audience a good evening, picked up a well worn flamenco guitar and placed himself midway between two lights on the stage floor. Jose’s performance began with the simple honesty that serves as the spine for his work, and offers a sort of vulnerability that draws the listener closer. There he is, unadorned, direct, open.
When he began to play, the crowd fell as silent as I’ve ever heard—a rare kind of public intimacy not offered to most singer/songwriters. But what distinguishes Gonzalez from every other soulful-eyed kook with an acoustic guitar is the relationship between the performer and this audience. There was a permeating sense of mutual respect, a level of trust and understanding, a mutual presence, a togetherness. Generally, an artist like Gonzalez’s worst enemy is an untamed crowd. It’s difficult when you want to be heard like your acclaimed predecessors Nick Drake, Elliott Smith and John Fahey, but you end up shouting your tunes over a gaggle of inconsiderate chirping and impatient drunks. However, Gonzalez has a very specific way of calming the crowd. Every time they roared with excitement, he met them with an unflinching expression and a bow of his head—presenting the warmest of smiles while hovering over the microphone. There’s a humility that comes through. An authenticity. And the trust deepens further, adding more weight to his lyrics, deepening the bond between Jose and the fan.
Personally, I’ve always preferred a song stripped down to its bare bones. The rudimentary percussions, the soft buzz of worn out acoustic strings and delicate harmonies that swell and reverberate off the venue walls. So I suppose it’s no surprise that I, along with the rest of the sold-out audience, fell head over heels for Gonzalez’s textural acoustic arrangements. The delicate hum and howl of his voice, the melancholy melodies and finger plucked guitar breakdowns. Every song has that sort of electrifying moment that you beg for on a rainy night in New York City. Gonzalez, as idle as he might be up on stage, journeys through a pedantic, wild list of emotions every time he plays each song. You’d do well to catch Jose Gonzalez’s show tonight at Webster Hall and experience for yourself.