José González at Imperial

April 27, 2015
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In the seven years since we last heard from José González—as a solo artist anyway—the Swedish Argentine troubadour kept busy recording and touring with side-project, Junip, and contributing tracks to a movie sidetrack, among other things. Now he’s back with a new record, Vestiges & Claws, and an accompanying North American tour. On April 25, the wild haired musician played to a sold-out crowd at Vancouver’s Imperial.

The show opened with a short set from Icelandic singer Ólöf Arnalds, who kept the early crowd at the intimate Chinatown venue engrossed in her sweet folksy melodies accompanied by gentle guitar and charango. But not everyone payed attention, and loud chatter and laughter could be heard coming from the bar at the other end of the venue. Nevertheless, those who were listening clearly appreciated her performance, and Arnalds concluded her set to enthusiastic clapping and cheering.

Once José González and his backing band arrived, everyone in the room put away their phones, put down their drinks, and focused on the stage, which was awash in blue light. Behind the band hung a textile backdrop featuring glowing celestial planets and star dust illustrations. Standing at the center of it all was González, a mop of curls casting shadows on his melancholic face, and looking very much like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince. Without further ado, the band plunged right into half a dozen songs spanning the crooner’s career, from “Every Age” and “With the Ink of a Ghost” from the new album to “Killing for Love” from In Our Nature, Junip’s “Walking Lightly,” and a cover of Kylie Minogue’s “Hand On Your Heart.”

The songs from his new self-produced album pick up where González left off in 2007’s In Our Nature, exploring themes of the human existence and nature. Lofty, heavy subjects by all accounts, yet the songs have an effervescent, airy quality when delivered in González’s signature rose petal soft vocals. Even when playing to a packed room, González has the ability to make you feel like he’s sitting at the edge of your bed, singing just for you.

That feeling of intimacy is even more poignant when González is left onstage to his own devices. Without the percussions, keyboard and additional guitar, he truly commands the room. On songs like “Crosses” and “The Nest, his fingerpicking has a rhythmic, percussive quality that’s at once hypnotic and transcendental.

During the second half of the show, the band turned it up a notch—or rather, just half a notch since this a José González show after all. Every head bounced along to the beat of “This Is How We Walk On The Moon” and “Down the Line.” Meanwhile, the lovers in the room moved a little closer to each other as González did a gorgeous rendition of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.” 

“Wow,” González said as he was met with thunderous applause. “Thanks for hanging out with us. Great crowd. Amazing.”

And so it was.