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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jose Gonzalez w/ Mia Doi Todd @ The Pabst Theater

March 18, 2008

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InOctober 2005, while Swedish-born Jos Gonzlez rode the ripples from the abrupt wave of international acclaim given to his 2003 album, Veneer, in the wake of its U.S. release, I watched an unaccompanied Mia Doi Todd face the impatient, hirsute horde that had amassed for a late-night show at The Independent in San Francisco. Todd was illmatched as the opener for another Scandinavian act, the psychedelic quartet Dungen, and it would be a kindly understatement to suggest that her set was merely awkward.

Todd’s earnest demeanor, in addition to the show’s late hour, made few—if any—inebriated converts. Fortunately for Todd, context was an asset at the Pabst Theater on Tuesday night, with her mellifluous voice and plaintive songwriting sharing equally in a warmer reception. At times virtually indistinguishable from the rhythm of the hand drums on which she was accompanied, Todd’s syncopated vocals lay stylistically between Sandy Denny minus the Celtic lilt and Joni Mitchell without the wail. Todd strummed her way through 45 minutes of mostly original material before eliciting a sincere standing ovation from two men in the front row.

The stage cleared for a brief intermission before a spotlighted Gonzlez appeared, rousing anyone still hypnotized by Todd’s sweetly soporific set with the gorgeous “Deadweight On Velveteen” followed by “Hints,” two of the moodier compositions from Veneer. Those charmed by Gonzlez’s debut will be pleased to find that he hasn’t strayed from Veneer’s aural austerity, though he treads darker waters on his 2007 release, In Our Nature. Silhouetted by a limpid blue backdrop, Erik Bodin and Yukimi Nagamo joined Gonzlez halfway through the set for “The Nest,” a track from In Our Nature. Like much of Gonzlez’s new material, the song marks a departure from Veneer’s lovelorn subject matter.

Its deceptively tranquil surface barely conceals roiling metaphors for the scourge of violence and cupidity that lies beneath. And while Gonzlez may owe his notoriety outside Europe to a slew of placements on American television, his deftly plucked, expressive guitar and politically pointed lyrics prove he’s far more than just a troubadour for prime-time teen dramas.