José González’s reputation may well have preceded him, given that he recently played a show at the Iceland Airwaves festival, which has become an “I was there” sort of moment in Icelandic musical annals. Before the night’s show started I caught snippets of conversations in which people described standing in line for over three hours in order to see him play at the Iceland Airwaves festival without getting in.
After opening act Siggi Ármann dragged those in attendance through an uneventful half-hour, José González appeared on stage to a welcoming applause from the audience. His deadpan demeanour firmly established the subdued mood that would follow, despite the crowd’s enthusiasm.
Somewhat surprisingly, the audience immediately reacted to the opening lines of Deadweight on Velveteen – a lesser-known track, having avoided the fate of underscore to dramatic scenes on The OC or bouncing balls on the streets of San Francisco in Sony commercials, which González’s more famous songs have undergone. The instant recognition suggested that those in attendance were there to do more than satisfy their curiosity. They were obviously fans.
From then on, González went through a set that was more or less comprised of songs from his debut effort, Veneer (2003). Some of the crowd’s favourites included Slow Moves, Lovestain, Crosses and a cover of Heartbeats by Swedish electro pop-duo The Knife. The biggest ovation though was reserved for his cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, which brought tears to the faint hearted in attendance. After a few minutes of enthusiastic clapping, González returned to the stage for an encore, including covers of Kylie Minogue’s Hand on Your Heart and an inspired rendition of Massive Attack’s Teardrop.
During the show, listeners remained listeners, as there was hardly a sound to be heard from those gathered. The barmaid even found time to climb up on top of the bar to take photos during her long breaks between the occasional beer sold. As spectators quietly lined up to exit the building, the mood was still uncommonly subdued. An evening with José González will do that to you, leaving you with a vivid and lasting sensation of quiet restraint.
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