In the pines

Jose Gonzalez at the Museum of Fine Arts, or, How I could almost hug a man
By SHARON STEEL  |  June 29, 2006

JOSÉ GONZÁLEZ: What a blessed relief to have something new to weep to.
José González has his head bowed, with the serene look of one deep in prayer. He could be a 12th-century troubadour passing through a monastery, or a barefoot hippie sitting on some rotting tree log on a private stretch of beach somewhere in South America. Wherever he is — even if it’s a temperature-controlled lecture auditorium — González is capable of delivering a brutal-yet-liberating acoustic punch. If you’re a heartsick malcontent, forget Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails, forget the dog-eared collection of Sylvia Plath poems, ditch the $5 boxed wine from Marty’s. Armed only with only a well-tuned classical guitar, González hurts more exquisitely than you ever dreamed possible.

Disappointments were a theme last night: the threat of a rainstorm that never came drove sweaty ticket holders indoors, transforming the MFA’s Concerts in the Courtyard series at the Museum of Fine Arts from open-air to closed shop. Mumbling and grumbling ensued. (But really, is it that bad when you’ve got a good view and a cushioned seat?) Fortunately the openers, the quaint UK electro-folk group Psapp, were cuter and more whimsical than an entire factory of Hello Kitty toys. Jazzy, violin-saturated songs were punctuated by bleeping cat meows coaxed by Carim Glasman from a plastic guitar he wore around his neck. Psapp’s deft blend of spacey tea-party music is what Karate and Zero 7 might sound like if they adopted a bunch of stray felines, gobbled raw cane sugar, and had sex with each other. It’s been much remarked upon at the MFA how odd it is to see senior citizens in pearls and coke-bottle glasses nodding along vigorously to indie-electronica, but here was a band that found a way to work it.

Even quirkier was middle bill-er Juana Molina, who totes to gigs a mini-studio: it’s a three-tiered synth/piano/delay pedal setup, plus classical guitar. An Argentinian Laura Ingalls Wilder in her yellow puff-sleved frock and pigtails, Molina’s gossamer chords, bizarre lapses into barking, and freshly-made backing tracks felt DIY organic, though not in an expensive-health-food-store way. I can picture her refinishing an antique armoire and planting sage in a garden with her keys in tow; a flower girl with the baggage of a modern world to contend with. She’s pleasantly quirky, but she stayed onstage for far too long.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had “Heartbeats” repeating in my head for the past week straight, but as soon as José González sits and starts tuning, I’m this close to rushing the stage and hugging him for dear life. Something tells me he’d be nice about it, though, and say “You are very kind,” in his weirdly wonderful Swedish/Spanish accent, instead of asking a museum security guard to haul me far away. He’s small and slender, with olive skin, a sparse beard and hollowed-out cheeks. Probably bruises easily. He starts off with “Slow Moves,” and while I’m surrounded by about a hundred people (scruffy hipster guys, their Sienna Miller-ish girlfriends, MFA officials, grandparents, middle-aged intellectuals), I may as well be alone in my room. Speaking as someone who worships at the shrine of Elliott Smith, it’s easy to go cold-turkey off Either/Or once you’ve heard Veneer and González’s haunting anthems are given the chance to preempt Elliott’s drug-addled woes. Yes, Veneer is the over-the-counter salve to a screwed-up relationship. What a blessed relief to have something new to weep to.

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