The collaboration between the Swedish indie-folk singer/songwriter and Gothenburg-based innovative orchestra started back in 2011, but the one on which they embarked in January and brought them to Southbank Centre in London two weeks ago, part of Nordic Matters Festival, was only their second European tour. At times, despite some remarkable and uplifting musical peaks, you could indeed notice its short-lived nature.
In fact, more than a team effort, the show was the sum of two artistic entities, often separate, but nonetheless emotional. If on one side, José González and his whispered and twangy voice could fully express himself only when solo, finally giving carte blanche to the characteristic harmonies built on by guitar arpeggios, on the other The String Theory ensemble sound centralised too much the audience attention displaying its well-defined identity.
Even though the Orchestra gave life to some inspired, unpredictable and almost avant-garde passages, during which percussions and strings repeatedly surprised the spectators, most of them simply couldn’t wait and were all ears for José Gónzalez cover of the Knife’s ‘Heartbeats’, one of the highlights of the show.
As was rare during the performance, the musicians perfectly interacted with each other on the song. The String Theory gently supported Gonzalez voice and guitar, giving life to an elegant arrangement. The synergy also set the scene when the Swedish singer intoned ‘Cycling Trivialities’, as Gonzalez introduced it as the “first song they did together” and arguably the most successful outcome of the collaboration.
Gonzalez vocal cords and educated fingerwork kept the main role until the end of the tune, with the orchestra strings, brass and vocal sections reinforcing the tone and emphasising the lyricism of the composition. That was a truly inspiring moment, drawing attention to the tasteful potential of a collaboration that unfortunately seldom revealed itself.