José González Settles Into the Spotlight

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Before last night’s stellar performance at Webster Hall, I’d seen Swedish-born acoustic guitarist and crooner [José González] perform twice (last year, during SXSW in Austin, Texas, and at the Bowery Ballroom in July). In both of these 2006 shows, he’d approached his music with the same quiet intensity of his debut album, Veneer, but seemed a bit uncomfortable on stage, addressing the audience infrequently and seeming completely wrapped up in his playing. But last night, it was clear that after nearly two years of heavy touring, he’s settled into the spotlight.

While he maintained his singular focus and his virtuosic, intricate playing, he engaged the audience between songs with stories and banter, and apparently even felt comfortable enough to leave the stage mid-performance to retrieve something he’d forgotten backstage (though it remained a mystery what the forgotten item was after he returned to his chair).

Early in the hour-long set, he focused more on favorites from Veneer, including “Heartbeats,” “All You Deliver” and “Lovestain,” which the otherwise silently enraptured crowd rewarded with enthusiastic cheers. He peppered the show with new songs from In Our Nature (released in September), with which the audience seemed less familiar, but Gonzalez won them over. As the show wore on, Gonzalez’s performance became steadily more passionate, particular on the driving “Down the Line.” And after the crowd begged for an encore, Gonzalez returned with “Crosses,” and ended with his best cover so far, Massive Attack’s “Teardrop,” which still sends chills up my spine, even though I’ve heard a dozen times or more.

Photo courtesy of [rococoquille on Flickr]

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