The Three Shy Guys

The sun was still shining and warming up the night as I entered a little bit before eight to Helsingin kulttuuritalo on Monday 28.4.08. Time to see Death Vessel and Jose Gonzalez on live.  

{mosimage}The artists had requested that there’d be just seats, no standing in tonight’s concert. To open up the night was Death Vessel from New York, who is neotraditional folk/pop/root music was familiar to me from the album Stay Close (2005). This soft, naïve, soothing music, similar to the group Lavender Diamond had really gotten to me. To see him appear on stage with his long, almost black long hair down to his waist, well formed arms and a such a masculine air around him was quite not what I had been expecting as I had never seen a photo of him. From far a way he could easily have been mistaken for Patti Smith. Acoustic guitar and a rock pose. I felt a little bit confused, wondering first if there had been some last minute changes. But then his familiar voice filled the room as he opened up the night with the beautiful Deep in the Horchada with his high soprano voice sounding at times almost prepubescent.  

I later found out that Death Vessel was Joel Thibodeau, who was born in Berlin and was now living in Brooklyn, New York. He had toured with groups like Iron &Wine and Low. And now he was on tour around Europe with Jose Gonzalez. The gig in Helsinki was the 24th on their tour together and last one for him. He was returning to New York on the next day. His appearance on the stage was shy and the comments between the songs quiet and short, keeping the contact with the audience to the minimum. But as I expected from my earlier experience with his music, his voice was truly amazing, bringing happy and light folky tunes to the audience who was taking it all in! He did a cover of the song Dont laugh originally by the Louvin Brothers (an american roots duet, known for their song The Christian Life, that the Byrds recorded for their release Sweetheart of the Rodeo). He finished his too short set powerfully with the song Blowing Cave.    

After what seemed like a too long pause between the sets, the audience nervously waiting, finally at 21.10 the lights dim to receive the star of the night: Jose Gonzalez. The light showed as this shy young man behind his Spanish guitar entered onto the big stage, lit only by one spotlight creating an image of a moon rising behind him and soon the repetitive riffs and his hypnotizing voice filled the room. He started with Storm and continued with Hints from his first album Veneer (2003). He quietly passed from one song to another, his head down, hiding behind his guitar, trying to get enough courage. He continued with Stay in the shade and then playing songs from the new album In our Nature (2007) How Low, In our nature and The nest. He explained quietly the story of this song, how little children are making a nest, but they forget to make windows and doors, and how it goes from joy to the darkness. He has said that he likes to play with symbolism and wants to bring out the primitive aspects of human beings.  

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5 years ago, this now 29-year old man was educating himself to become a researcher in biochemistry at the University of Gothenburg. He had been playing in some hardcore punk before starting as a solo artist. His interest in the Spanish guitar and the folk music come from his roots. His parents exiled from Argentina to Sweden  in 1978, the same year when he was born. At home they listened to Latin American classics like Silvio Rodriguez or João Gilberto.  In the next songs Remain and Down the line, Eric Bodin and Yukimi Nagamo joined to play the minimalist percussions, basic keyboard and to sing the backing up vocals. But there was no doubt that was the star of the night.

Between songs Jose Gonzalez made some small shy comments in Finnish, but most of the time he kept his head introvertidly down to the guitar, playing, as figures familiar from his album art passed behind him on a projection – a horse, pine trees moving on a track, a monkey, a guitar string vibrating, all with saturated colors creating a dreamlike atmosphere that hypnotized the audience. After one hour and a half and 16 great songs it was down to the last one, Teardrop, a cover of Massive Attack song. The audience requested more and was awarded with four more songs. The only song that he didn’t play was the one song that made him famous worldwide: Heartbeats and truth is that after the great performance we didn’t miss it either. 

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And like that would not have been enough, then to finish off the night I headed to Kuudes Linja for the concert of Phosphorescent, the solo project of Matthew Houck, an artist based in Brooklyn, New York. To date, Houk has released three full-length albums under the Phosphorescent moniker: Pride (2007), Aw Come (2005), A Hundred Times or More (2003).  It was around midnight, when from the darkness emerged a figure behind his guitar sampling his voice on many different layers, with distorted guitar, cords and feedback creating a sonic wall to break with all that was before to begin from zero making space for his own melodies. With his shy voice and just the sound of his acoustic guitar he sang about love, relationships, dead hearts and hope. He recreated some of the songs from his last two albums, like I am a full grown man and Joe Tex, these goddamn taming blues are killing me . Like an anecdote to finish this concert he did a great cover of Dire Straits song So far away, that he had seen on the television in his hotel room the night before.  What more can you ask for a Monday night in Helsinki!!!  

Photos: Andrés Ahuir.