Touring behind his first album in nearly seven years, José González took the stage of the Paradise Rock Club, toting his beautiful acoustic guitar and a young lifetime’s worth of beautiful songs. The Swedish folk singer’s voice was cool and expressive voice as weaved tunes both new and old, transfixing the spellbound, packed-like-sardines audience of his sold-out Boston show.
Seated at the center of his band, González performed with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. This is to be expected with a discography that stretches back over a decade and the collective breadth of a successful solo career along with parallel side projects (like the more experimental group Junip). What makes González’s tunes particularly transcendent is the thoughtfulness and care put into creating each one: he has produced only three full-length albums in his time.
Behind González, four highly talented multi-instrumentalists created a rich atmosphere against which the singer’s words were laid like rich, deft brushstrokes. With two percussionists, songs like “Every Age” and set opener “What Will” (from 2015’s Vestiges & Claws) maintained a vaguely Eastern rhythm. Nowhere was the malleable nature of each player more evident than when the primary percussionist put down his drumsticks to pick up a clarinet, providing a warm harmony.
Eschewing the conventional bassist slot within his rhythm section for a second acoustic guitarist, González’s playing often took on a drone-like quality, thumbing out bass notes with hypnotic repetition. This style allowed his accompanying guitarist to perform some wonderful lead work, playing inverting triads and clear, pretty melodies. Unfortunately, the sound became extremely muddled as the Paradise sound team failed to react appropriately to Gonzalez’s style of low-range instrumentation. The result was a song or two in which the band could properly hear one another through their monitors onstage – or else were such professionals that they were able to play through the muddiness – but the musical conversation was completely lost on the audience.
The sound was reasonable resolved by the time that González treated the audience to a handful of songs played only by himself and his guitar. In a strange testament to his idiosyncratic artistry, his acoustic performance of the gorgeous breakup ballad “Hand On Your Heart” – originally by Australian pop queen Kyle Minogue – had couples leaning into one another and quietly humming or whispering along.
The band closed the evening out with “Down the Line” (from 2007’s In Our Nature), in which the singer chants “Don’t let the darkness eat you up.” González and his musicians left the stage, with thunderous applause beckoning him back to perform another song. Again he was accompanied only by his own guitar, before being joined by the remainder of his band to encore with “Leaf Off / The Cave” – and its answer to “Down the Line” with the coda “May the life lead you out,” surely leading the audience into the cool night with nothing less than a feeling of satisfaction, and perhaps a bit of enlightenment, too.
Photos by Jacob Moss.