Jose Gonzalez with The String Theory – Brighton Dome – 21st September 2018

Photo by Jamie MacMillan

Sometimes it all just comes together for one special night. For an artist that has actually released precious little material (just two solo albums in 11 years), Jose Gonzalez remains a figurehead of an entire sub-genre of acoustic, emotive singer-songwriters. Tonight, back in Brighton, a city that clearly holds him in even higher regard than most, he put on a sublime performance alongside one of the most talented orchestras in the world today. “It’s always good to be here after London, feel that sea breeze on your face” he says at one point. The feeling is reciprocated and then some.

With the large room in near pitch-black darkness, an eerie hush descends as The String Theory begin the set with what feels like minutes of ambient soundscapes, the conductor barely perceptibly encouraging them onwards. As the light slowly rises, the Swedish-Argentinian’s gentle guitar sounds and smooth vocals appear to meet them perfectly. Staying seated throughout, there is a sitting-round-the-campfire feel to the night. The only difference being that he has brought 20 or so friends with him. For the orchestra are not there to merely accompany Gonzalez, instead they add a whole new level altogether.

Based in Berlin and Gothenburg, there is a real experimental edge to The String Theory. At points they add a harder, rockier edge than can be expected, at others they lean more into avant-garde, with electric drills being utilised to add an original sound. Though the entire orchestra play their part to the full, special mention should go to the percussive section at the back. Regularly changing between instruments after, and during, each song, they provide the foundations upon which the entire show sits. Yet, together, the orchestra conduct the audience as much as anything, rising to their feet and leading the entire room to stand up and clap to the beat of ‘Stories We Build, Stories We Tell’ without even a word of encouragement. It is the perfect performance, not so much a deconstruction as an extension to the existing music.

Of course, though, it is Gonzalez that is the star. Largely pulling from 2015’s Vestiges & Claws, the set is the perfect display of his songwriting craft and general musicianship. ‘Heartbeats’ remains the centre-piece, a moment of beauty that everything else is built around, evoking audible gasps and sighs as its simple intro begins. However, in truth, the entire evening is a highlight, a show that will live long in the fabric of this famous old venue. Whatever the reasons are that lie behind the glacially slow output from Gonzalez, nights like this will continue to keep him at the heart of this musical world.

Jamie MacMillan