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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday Night: With Junip, José Gonsález is Less Mesmerizing Than When Solo

Posted By on Sat, Jun 19, 2010 at 8:18 PM

  • Taylor Friedman

Junip (featuring José Gonsález), LoveLikeFire
June 18, 2010
Rickshaw Stop

Better than: Getting kicked to the curb for reasons unbeknownst to you.

A sign at the Rickshaw Stop entrance warns that anyone can be ejected from the venue at any time, for any reason. With no rabble-rouser to shake things up, or down, the mostly adult crowd drank cocktails under the venue's white, wintry lights. This is how one should act when seeing Jose Gonsález, who is from Sweden and is on Starbucks compilation CDs. Gonsález is what a refined European listens to while sipping a morning cappuccino. Even so, the promise lingered that anyone's butt could be out the door at any time. Exciting.

The opening band, San Francisco's LoveLikeFire, has been described as shoegazing rock for their reserved, milquetoast stage presence. (As in, they'd rather stare at their shoes than engage the audience.) Singer Ann Yu is demure but endearing as she shuffles and bops, without a morsel of dancing ability, in an oversize button-up shirt. She could just as easily be jumping on a mattress at a slumber party, but instead, she's fronting an ethereal indie-rock band. 

Ann Yu, LoveLikeFire singer
  • Ann Yu, LoveLikeFire singer

Yu's voice is haunting and commanding, though it is quiet even at full volume. Her singing comes with some seriously intense facial expressions - at points, when she squeezes shut her eyes, her high cheekbones threaten to engulf them. Bassist Eric Amerman really does look down at his moccasins, and guitarist Marty Mattern flashes smiles and knowing glances at the other band members that are oddly not reciprocated. Drummer Dave Farrell at least knows how to keep things interesting by securing a yellow tambourine on his cymbal and hitting the drums with maracas.

Marty Mattern, LoveLikeFire guitarist
  • Marty Mattern, LoveLikeFire guitarist

When José Gonsález begins his own sound check, the tame room explodes into a Lord of the Flies free-for-all. Suddenly, everyone is up on each other, trying to get as close as possible to where Gonsález sits and plays guitar with his band, Junip. Everyone scrambles to get pictures, and anyone who isn't at the foot of the stage finds himself watching the show on other people's cameras. Special thanks to the tall weasel with the huge hair who stands right in front of Gonsález's chair and impairs everyone else's sight.

Jose Gonsález is a quiet character whose songs are lonely, simplistic and complex at once. When it's just his voice and his intricate string work, the music is mesmerizing to the point of being lulling. Famous for his solo music, his signature sound is lost with Junip, drowned out by the other instruments. It's like ordering a Monet only to get a Picasso. Ideally, he should be playing alone on a stool, and no one should be anywhere near him, let alone whooping fans. That, unfortunately, would undermine his music career.

José González
  • José González

Songs from Junip's EP all blend together until the encore, when Gonsález plays the best song of the night -- one he has never performed, called "These Days." "It might sound crap," he says, taking out a sheet with lyrics and placing it on his knee. He flubs his favorite verse, mumbles other sections, and laughs through it all. But he never "sounds crap" -- even if you have no idea what he's saying half the time.

When the song ends, he gives the lyrics to the boy in everyone's way. Mother.

Critic's notebook:

Random detail: Shout-out to the girl standing next to me who continued to tell me how awesome Gonsález's voice is after she found out I was reviewing the show. Really? Because all I can hear is you telling me over and over how awesome he is.

Personal bias: Encores are so contrived. Just play your songs if you're going to play them.

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