Jose Gonzalez with The Gothenburg String Theory / Little Scream

The Barbican Centre, London on Mon 11th Apr 2011

There are few things in life that aren't improved by an orchestral backing. A sponsored silence perhaps or maybe some sort of orchestras-anonymous meeting, but in music there isn't a lot that defies this rule. Even the types of music you wouldn't expect to work well tend to herald unexpected results from adding an orchestra – Aussie Hip-Hop outfit Hilltop Hoods did an entire album 'restrung', which was surprisingly brilliant. So when someone like Jose Gonzalez pairs up with the highly regarded Gothenburg String Theory it's reasonable to expect big things.

First up the support, Little Scream. You know when you're having one of 'those' days? Well it could be worse, just imagine that said day involves a transatlantic flight in which the airline lost your guitar. Also that you're set to open on your own at The Barbican to a sell-out crowd having spent all of your time recently touring with a full band in support. On top of this the main act happens to be Jose Gonzalez performing with an orchestral backing. Oh and your album launches on the same day. Perhaps understandably the first few songs from Little Scream didn't go well, trying to use various vocal effects to compensate for the lack of a band were slightly off time and some sounded just bizarre and out of place. Thankfully by the fourth song, 'The Heron And The Fox', singer Laurel Sprengelmeyer had got her confidence back and proved to the crowd that her vocals and soft, melodic guitar was more than enough on its own.

On to the main event – rather than opening with the full orchestra the first track, 'Hints', was just Gonzalez and for the next he was joined by just the drums and extra vocals before the full orchestra arrived for 'How Low'. The Gothenburg String Theory isn't what you'd call a 'conventional' orchestra, perhaps best summarised by the conductor who directed proceedings more in the manner of Thom Yorke's dance in the 'Lotus Flower' video than you’d expect from a conductor. A lot of the tracks used the orchestra to build up the intro, sometimes to the point where you wondered if the track would actually start, but for most the arrangements were beautifully put together, keeping Gonzalez's warm guitar and vocals at the forefront but adding subtle, delicate layers of extra sound to good effect.

'Crosses' was the first song where it felt as though the full might of the 20 piece ensemble delivered everything it could, and from there on in the theme continued. The excellent cover of Kylie's 'Hand On Your Heart' is as perfect an example of a cover as you'll find. It also takes a lot to improve on Massive Attack's 'Teardrop', particularly when the cover isn't far removed from the original, but adding the power of a string section, brass and drums makes it not only work, but almost improve on the original.

Ending on 'Down The Line' to a standing ovation, Gonzalez returned for an encore first on his own for 'Fold', and then joined by the full Gothenburg String Theory for what else but 'Heartbeats'. The song from the advert that is perhaps his most well known was the perfect way to end the set, not overstated, not dramatic, just delivered with each instrument adding the right notes at the right time to create something genuinely special.

article by: Darren Willsher

published: 13/04/2011 10:42

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