Posted by: Cory | June 18, 2008

Review: Jose Gonzalez @ Headliners – 6/14

José Gonzalez came to Louisville’s Headliners on Saturday night. After a quick bike ride to the Greek Festival for the best Gyro we’ve had in some time, we caught the Argentinian by way of Sweden (his parents moved for political reasons) for a quite and relaxing set. Opening the show was Lexington’s Neva Geoffrey, a pianist pop singer with a Cat Powery vibe musically and a St. Vincent vibe aesthetically. With the visceral and affectionate pop of each of the aforementioned artists, it’s hard to believe she’s a hometown (near enough) girl. We have both Texas and California to thank for her. In her past life, she may well have been a jazz lounge performer, her voice is so soothing and calming while she gently massages your whole body with delicate strokes of the keys before her. Breathtaking in the simplicity of the progressions, she was a lot of fun to see play (She closed the set with Corduroy Boy) & I’ll be sure to catch her next show, with better warning and her 2007 The Days Are Rolling in hand.

When the time came for José to come to the stage, I was a little surprised to find just how far back he was set up. The start and the close of the set was just a chair and a mic with spotlight on it, and it called to mind a scene from the musical Buddy Holly as they informed the audience of his death. It was the most powerful scene I’ve ever come across in the theater. With that in my mind, Jose took the stage.

Unfortunate as it is, the show, and consequently this review, was absolutely marred by the rudest person I’ve ever encountered at a concert. Approximately three rows back, from the first song to the last song, this jerk spent the entire show shouting things like “Get ‘Em José” and I seem to recall a “Freebird” thrown in there. As someone who spends a significant amount of time at concerts, I’m rarely disturbed by people in the crowd and usually only vaguely aware of them, but this was an exceptional case. All around, people would beg and plead with him to allow them to appreciate (or at least hear) the concert, but he (and his friends) would redirect his shouting at them. Throughout the entire show, I heard people saying “Seriously, please be quite, we can’t hear”, to which he and his friends would reply something to the effect of “I can do what I want.” True, but clearly this guy doesn’t spend much time in civil society. Jose plays a melancholic and soft, sweet sound, and while background bar noise is one thing, drunk loud obnoxious punks are another, and despite being in the front or second row, it was virtually impossible to hear Jose without significant effort to tune these guys out. Largely because of this, I wish the show would have taken place at the 930 (but these things can never be predicted).

Once I finally was able to manage to tune the rude guy out though, I couldn’t help but be overcome by José. Instantly, his voice and tempo forces you to draw comparisons to Nick Drake, Elliot Smith, and Mark Kozelek (who you can see at the 930 coming up!) though I believe primarily the former. I’ve also heard comparisons drawn to Iron & Wine and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, but I think to a much lesser extent. This is, perhaps never more true than on Fold, from his debut album, In Our Nature. The isolation and melancholy of his voice, combined with his slightly detached and removed stage presence conveys the sense of loss and perhaps even desperation, but moreover the beauty of those things and so much more in his world. Then again, perhaps he’s just shy. Jose’s set-up was, as I have mentioned, shockingly intimate for Headliners. The Swedgentinian’s minimal set-up consisted of a chair, a classical guitar, two mics and a spotlight.  José simply came to the stage, played his music, and left.  Dialog between songs was minimal, and after he stuck to his setlist, only switching the order of the two-song encore from the way he had written it.  It’s possible too that José’s mood was influenced by having played Bonnaroo the night before…

José has shown his wide range in both talent and taste, covering artists from Swedish electro-thrash artists The Knife to Manchester’s kings Joy Division. While we were granted the good fortune to hear Kylie Minogue’s Hand on your Heart and his Sony commercial The Knife cover, I would have prefered to have gotten to hear Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart coming from the slightly less tormented musician. His affection for Joy Division sprouted no doubt from the time spent in his younger years playing in punk rock bands.

Rightly or wrongly, I associate the latin american style of music to be a very controlled, very precise & technically astonishing form, and holding to that tradition, José displayed a mastery of his guitar that is all too rare in modern indie folk music, evidenced as he drafted texture upon texture of haunting, but beautiful sounds and aching, though sparse, vocals.  Once studying for his PhD. in Biochemistry, José gave it up to pursue his music, and we couldn’t be more appreciative. José titled his new album In Our Nature is reference to the debate over whether human behavior is biologically dictated. Science, philosophy and religion are major lyrical themes for him. “I don’t want to be too harsh, but there’s very little evidence for ‘intelligent design’ or any sort of creator,” he explains.  If that’s true, then how is it this man can play the guitar and sing the way he does.  Evidence enough?

For the Complete Setlist & loads of photos,

  • Setlist:
    • Storm
    • Hints
    • Fold
    • Heartbeats (The Knife cover)
    • In Our Nature
    • How Low
    • Lovestain
    • Remain
    • Down the Line
    • Deadweight on Velveteen
    • Crosses
    • The Nest
    • Hand on your Heart (Kylie Minogue cover)
    • Killing for Love
    • Small Time Boy
    • Teardrop (Massive Attack cover)
  • Encore
    • Abram
    • Cycling Trivialties



  1. Boy, those guys were extremely annoying! I was right in front of them unfortunately. I finally tuned them out though and focused on how amazing Jose is. It was an awesome show!

  2. I believe your review captured the essence of the performance very well (well worded!). I enjoyed this show very much, although I too would have preferred to see him in a different (more dare I say ‘intimate’ i.e. smaller / less noisy evironment). I’m told, however, that Jose actually requested Headliner’s for this show. Anyway, different venues = different performances and experiences which is good otherwise it would all get sorta boring.
    The thing I often notice at shows that bugs me isn’t just the amount of people noise–but people movement. Where are you all going and why do you feel the constant need to move around and be seen? Just stand there for a minute and observe/listen to the artist you just came to experience!

  3. Wow. Sorry to hear about the idiot. I know this isn’t correct, but I like to convince myself that people who listen to music such as Jose Gonzalez aren’t going to be a bunch of dummies.

    Then again, Miller High Life can changer your perspective real fast.

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