With the way he fondles those nylon strings, some would call him a lover. Others would claim he is a fighter, jabbing and tearing away as he strums through the heaviest of his low volume songs. But when it really comes down to it, Jose Gonzalez is a dancer, gifted with fingers that can out-shake, out-rattle, and out-roll the classiest in the ballroom.
As we approached the decrepit commercial building, the tainted yellow light that haunts every orifice of the nocturnal Echo Park landscape seemed to be pushing us inside. The Jensen RecCenter Studio, (the Echo was the previously scheduled venue) was supposedly located in this building. And yet this place looked more appropriate to house bail bonds office or a Salvation Army rather than a space where the community could come to pump its iron.
But entering the well-lit hallway of the RecCenter, it was apparent that this was no place to lift dumbbells or stretch your calves. High white walls with naked wooden beams surrounded a crowd paying close attention to the army of instruments that donned the stage. Opposite the crowd, a large brick wall framed a fireplace, magically lit atop a garden of broken glass. This and the vision of modern furniture surrounding the fire drastically offset the image I had created in my head of the RecCenter.
Arriving just in time to hear the final crashing notes of the promising opening band, Minor Canon, I finagled my way to the back corner and plotted my feet atop a chair, which enabled me to peek over the top of the crowd. My perch was perfectly placed to view the single chair that sat center stage. The absence of the other instruments signaled the sparse show about to unfold.
Gonzalez approached the stage amidst a warm welcome that diminished into a silence rarely heard at a rock show. It was like the sound between tears or the quiet communication between lovers when romance is understood. As Gonzalez began, his fingers took form in all their dancing glory. Sometimes doing little more than arpeggiating a single chord, Gonzalez’s fingers danced, stabbed, and caressed their way through an entire set, which consisted mostly of tunes on Veneer and his latest EP, Stay in the Shade.
Starting off with “Hints,” and strategically placing his better loved songs “Heartbeats” and “Crosses” later on, the crowd granted Gonzalez its attention for his entire set. Gonzalez played through his compositions so perfectly that it seemed he was lip-syncing his songs that played over the studio’s PA. Interpretations of well known hits like Kylie Minogue’s “Hand on Your Heart” and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” seemed even more original than his own pieces. And yet the mimicry of his album tracks never lost the essence they originally possessed as personal confessions recorded in a bedroom, unscathed by big studio production.
So often is the listener set apart from the musician they are trying to understand. But in listening to Gonzalez’s music, one finds a bond that is many times lost in the modern music experience. Therein lies the secret to Gonzalez’s success; a no frills approach to music that allows the listener and the audience to share a moment with the artist.
(Photos courtesy of Braedon Photography)