After a few years of going to shows in loud bars, it’s easy to forget the direct connection with music and performance. There’s always variables and circumstantial elements that play into your attention not being 100% on the music itself – the company you’re in, rounds at the bar, catching a smoke outside for a breather, whatever have you. It takes a very special environment to bring it back to a one-on-one connection – and there’s very few places in the world, let alone Australia, quite as special as the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House.

José González arrives on stage with no fanfare, no walk-on music… not even a dimming of the house lights. Simply a smile, a wave and saying hello. Save for a flute player in “The Forest,” he will not be joined by another soul on stage for the evening. The only proper indulgence is the line drawing that adorns the back wall through a projection. There are moments where the room feels like the quietest place on earth, to the point where you can clearly hear the tap of González’s feet or fingers hitting the top of his guitar. At long last, that direct connection is there again – and it feels powerful.

González is a masterful guitar player – his flamenco style of playing makes it sound as though he’s accompanied by an entire ensemble as he picks out rivers of notes and chords. “Down the Line” and Killing for Love” are simultaneously delicate and emotionally weighted, with González’s distinctive voice guiding the fray. “Leaf Off/The Cave” feels hymnal as its refrain (“let the light lead you out”) chimes out again and again, while “Cycling Trivialities” unravels and blossoms before our very eyes. He plays for nearly 90 minutes overall, but you’re never left checking the clock or impatiently waiting for a song’s conclusion. It’s a warm, intimate performance that is testament to the majesty of this venue and the longevity of the artist performing in it.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a José González show without some choice covers. Having dazzled with a sweet, simple version of “Blackbird” earlier in the evening, the Swedish troubadour concludes the show with three of his most famous renditions: The Knife’s “Heartbeats,” Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” and Kylie Minogue’s “Hand on Your Heart.” The transformation each song has taken to blend into González’s sepia-toned folk meanderings is really quite something – it never ceases to amaze that these versions have arguably eclipsed the originals insofar as popularity is concerned. They are as captivating now as the first time you heard them all those years ago – and that’s exactly what makes González so special as a performer.

Review – David James Young
Photo – Prudence Upton (courtesy of Sydney Opera House)