Live at Brudenell Social Club on Sunday, 10th October 2010
OK sleepy heads, no cheating now. Hands up who knew Jose Gonzalez had a band of his own that have been slipping in and out of consciousness since their school days in Sweden at the back end of the 90s? Yeah, yeah, yeah, there's always a smart arse at the back of the class.
Gonzalez is the Nick Drake/John Martyn/Latin pop influenced folky who four years ago struck a chord or two with Heartbeats, an earnest cover of The Knife's trashy electro pop song which went hand in hand with a quarter of a million multi-coloured balls bouncing down the streets of San Francisco in an ad looking to flog HD TVs.
Well, the lo-fi Gothenburg trio are up to a five-piece for their first European tour as a band and keen to make up for lost time. If you were expecting a night around the coffee table of Gonzalez's hypnotic and mournful voice you'd be half right, because these boys deliver a smorgasbord of trippy folk and 1960s psychedelia that takes its lead from Tobias Winterkorn's Moog and synth but built on the purposely repetitive afro-beat rhythms of Elias Ariya, and all decorated with bongos, glockenspiel and recorder.
The night kicks off with a bit of Ikea style set-building as Winterkorn positions a rubber plant in the middle of the stage to complement an illuminated globe and a cuckoo clock, and they get off to a cosy living-room start as they launch into Rope and Summit, a Doors-like track from Fields - their one and only album which was released last month.
I like this band, I really do, but as the set ploughs through To The Grain and up into the night sky of It's Alright and back down again as the punchy bass treks through the country lanes of Sweet and Bitter you have to wonder what they bring to the table as a live act. Gonzalez ain't the most charismatic showman, most of his lyrics deserve to be sitting in the deepest waste paper basket of the worst sixth-form poet and his voice - mesmerising as it is - lacks depth. As a collective their material is certainly stronger than Gonzalez's solo stuff but on stage the light in this particularly gloomy pine forest flickers only intermittently. There are no surprises here and no high points, just a feeling that here are three shy, arty types looking to provide a bit of warmth against three months of winter darkness the Swedes are so familiar with.
Without You and Always are relentlessly beautiful on record and stage but dreaminess occasionally demands a 6am wake-up call to break up the tempo. There are signs of that happening as the set veers away from Fields. At The Doors is pure Set the Controls for the Heart of The Sun although unlike the Pink Floyd track this one rises to a crescendo before bringing us back to earth. A fullish crowd starts to stir at Far Away and In Every Direction, before the encore delivers us Chickens which is punctuated by an unnervingly loud bang from one of the speakers. "An explosion!" quips Gonzalez, but sadly this particular hiker doesn't haven't any more jokes in his ruck sack.
Instead he asks the crowd what they want to hear. Black Refuge is off limits as they haven't rehearsed it and inevitably the couples in the audience want Heartbeats. "No, no, only Juniper songs tonight," says an embarrassed Gonzalez as he considers further requests from the room. So what do they finish with? Correct. The Ghost of Tom Joad by er...Bruce Springsteen. It was a shame they didn't get round to Let It Pass but perhaps that would have been one lullaby too many. An appreciative crowd gave them a rousing send-off equal to the one they gave the support which was provided by a man who just craves the stage and is definitely one to watch - big-hearted Canadian Dan Mangan.
Only caught a couple of his songs but he seems to mix the good parts of Bright Eyes and the gravelly-voiced Micah P Hinson to good effect, and had a sizeable audience eating blueberry muffins out of the palm of his hands. Yes, Dan I know - you're so right! Robots need to be loved too, I've always said that! Just to make sure everyone became involved he breezed into the crowd with acoustic guitar to belt out the chorus of Robots standing on the back wall in the ultimate act of audience participation. Dan, you're the man.