José González – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 8, 2015
Live music has a unique power to transport us, to turn a rock club into something greater than just cinder blocks and floorboards. Sometimes it’s a singer’s voice or a musician’s extreme talent at playing an instrument; sometimes it’s the lights or stage production; sometimes it’s just the people in the room, the way they connect with the people on the stage—and sometimes it’s just some inexplicable magic. But last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, it was all of these things in abundance as Jose González transported, transformed and transcended. González and his band performed in front of a sort of DIY backdrop, a minimalist line drawing of a mountain range with cartoon renderings of stars, sun and rain—a perfect representation of where we were about to travel: some lo-fi high-altitude dream world.
They opened the show with “Afterglow,” González singing, “All of this will be gone someday,” as his voice and guitar reverberated through the crowd, creating perfect harmony with the rest of his band and the room itself. There was something special in the resonances there, the way the vocals filled the space and the guitars hummed, matching some natural frequency of the moment. Music Hall became a church of sorts and the crowd was completely entranced. “Stories We Build, Stories We Tell” was like a swaying pocket watch, guitars and bongos and finger snaps looped over and over until the audience was hypnotized. For the rest of the set, the energy among González, the band and the audience was palpable: few words were spoken, but the ideas and the shared moments were perfectly conveyed. At moments the power of the music’s vibrations and the space was awe-inspiring, and a hushed amazement bubbled across the crowd, but everyone seemed worried about breaking the spell and the murmurs quickly dissipated.
Halfway through, González did a few solo songs, highlighting his impressive talents. The sweep of five fingers across the six strings of his guitar created a beauty unlike anything you could imagine such a simple gesture could do. The band—a stripped-down affair of light percussion, additional guitar and minimal synth—returned for a strong closing section highlighted by “What Will” and an intensely rhythmic cover of Arthur Russell’s “This Is How We Walk on the Moon.” The set’s final song, “Cycling Trivialities” began precisely at 11:11, that magical moment of synchronicity and symmetry, González asking, “So how’s it going to be when it all comes down,” matching the bleak beauty of the opening song. Lit from behind, the band stood in silhouette, adding in clarinet and xylophone. After one more solo number, González completed the journey with “Leaf Off/The Cave,” each word and chord resonating in more ways than one. As the song built to its final conclusion, the crowd followed the rhythm and clapped along. It wasn’t just an everyday clap-along, but a powerful communal moment as he sang, “What it means to be alive,” the spell still strong even after the music concluded. —A. Stein | @Neddyo