Whether it be The Hives, The Cardigans or Shout Out Louds there’s no denying that Swedish music is enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment. At the forefront of this Scandinavian movement is José González, the young Swede whose hushed acoustic songs were brought to a whole new audience courtesy of an advert for Sony televisions.
González had brought some compatriots along as supporting attractions tonight, and first up was Swedish singer/songwriter Frida Hyvönen. She was a quirky presence from the off, munching on an apple and telling us all about “National Ugliness Day”. Her songs were in the stark, Tori Amos/Fiona Apple confessional mode, although underscored by a weird mix of jauntiness and wistfulness.
One highlight of Hyvönen’s short set was New York, her austere, yearning tribute to the Big Apple and most remarkably Once I Was Serene Teenage Child, complete with the arresting opening line “Once I felt your cock against my thigh”. Some of her material did veer alarmingly close to Dido territory, but her charmingly off-beat stage banter charmed the audience no end.
Next up was the very strange experience of Midaircondo, three Swedish women dressed in matching green dresses and armed with a plethora of Apple technology. There were a multi-media experience, projecting arty backdrops and playing an experimental Sigur Rós style of electronica. It was certainly challenging, and at times reminded one of Björk covering some of Radiohead‘s stranger moments.
Yet there’s a fine line between left-field experimentation and self-indulgent noodling, and the trio could often be accused of the latter. They played the sort of music that could easily be described as ‘hypnotic’ – which itself can be a euphemism for ‘repetitive and dull’. Nice backdrops though.
Topping the triple bill of Swedish entertainment tonight was the main attraction, González himself. He seems a quiet, bashful presence onstage, hunched over his acoustic guitar and shyly muttering thanks to the audience between songs. Yet this hardly mattered as he entranced the City Hall with note perfect renditions of the subtle, contemplative tracks from his debut album Veneer.
Songs like All You Deliver and Deadweight On Velveteen are perfectly recreated, and a hush descended over the audience whenever González began to sing. His guitar technique was equally impressive, strumming and plucking at his instrument with the utmost delicacy one minute and complete intensity the next.
González was also joined by two percussionists halfway through the set who lent his stark songs a very subtle backbone – despite González’ introspection, there’s obviously great creative chemistry between the trio and it was a delight to watch them interacting with such concentration. As well as Veneer tracks, González also unveiled a couple of new tracks, which indicate that his follow up album will be well worth looking forward to.
Taking their cue from Midaircondo, a selection of graphics was projected onto the back of the stage during González’ set, including arty drawings of people travelling up escalators and down again – there was hardly any need for these though as González was such a mesmerising figure to watch.
He encored with his astonishing version of Kylie Minogue‘s Hand On Your Heart, in which the cheesy pop of the original was turned inside out and transformed into a desolate, emotive plea for a lover not to leave. Certainly a contender for one of the best cover versions ever, and it was quickly followed by another gem – his version of Massive Attack‘s Teardrop which built and built in intensity as the song went on.
It was one more cover version that everyone was here for though, and when González’ struck the opening chords of his breakthrough version of The Knife‘s Heartbeats, the City Hall erupted. Whatever your opinion about songs being used for television adverts, there’s no doubt that González has made Heartbeats his own, a beautifully delicate acoustic masterpiece which it’s impossible to grow tired of.
The final encore saw González’ rendition of Bronski Beat‘s Smalltown Boy, yet another song which proves that the man really knows how to do a cover version. A perfect end to an utterly spellbinding set.