Review: Jose González at Cadogan Hall

The Swedish singer-songwriter performed a perfectly-paced set in the sacral setting of London's Cadogan Hall.

Though for some the idea of pairing a guitar with a loop pedal might bring back painful memories of a pained smile at a friend in the midst of their Ed Sheeran ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’ phase at the local open mic night, rest assured, it can be tastefully done. Case in point: José González. Though the Swedish singer/songwriter has never been one for fancy or cheap tricks – on the contrary, since his 2003 debut Veneer his vast appeal has been based on a vulnerability and rawness – peppered throughout an otherwise characteristically striped-back solo performance at London’s Cadogan Hall, subtle use of vocal loops, layered guitar arrangements and even gentle beats brought his set to life.

This new textural layer to González’ sound is a result of Local Valley, his fourth full-length released back in September, which features a gentle pulse, distant and lightly warbling synths and field recordings of birdsong throughout – the latter is an especially nice touch during the closing moments of his cover of ‘Blackbird’ that closes his London set. Interestingly, the singer leaves his new material until the second half, and there’s a faint wisp of surprise when he gets into ‘Crosses’ and ‘Heartbeats’, two breakthrough singles from his debut, early on and not as an encore as might be expected. ‘Cycling Trivialities’ from 2007’s In Our Nature feels particularly chilling, as his intricately fingered nylon strings resonate amongst the setting of Cadogan Hall; behind him is a feint backdrop of upside down pine trees that seem to reflect the real Christmas tree erected at the top of the hall’s dome. 

But, to González’ credit, the second chapter of the evening counterparts the first with a new sense of pace, and at times – especially the looped ‘Swing’ with its light Latin shuffle or the foor-on-the-floor beat of ‘Head On’ – the night is almost lively. ‘Tjomme’, the first of an encore, feels positively hallucinatory, with its looped and low whispers sung in his mother tongue, and the visuals behind him come to life as lo-fi cameras on stage project the outline of his figure behind him. 

José González - Swing (Official Music Video)

Having hardly spoken a word throughout save for a few thank yous, it’s a little surprise when he introduces his final song of the evening with a quote by the American writer and anthropologist Helen Fisher: “People live for love. They kill for love. They die for love.” The song that follows is of course his old hit ‘Killing For Love’.

Catch Jose González perform in the UK here.