Gonzales @ The ICA
“Do I amuse you? Am I a musical whore? Do you mock me?” Gonzales theatrically implores, drenched in sweat, exhausted after delivering the best 90 minutes this year – outside of their bedrooms – for almost everyone present. Actually even “time spent with loved ones” doesn’t usually pack vaudeville, theatre, comedy, classical piano, rap, power ballads, and actual physical assault into an hour and a half… if it does can I have your number?
Its a few years since I witnessed Gonzales on his Solo Piano tour entrancing an audience with a bizarre mix of classical piano recital, and music lesson. He had the crowd providing basslines, recreated daft punk classical style, donned a lab coat and tutored random members of the crowd in keyboard skills, all while explaining the difference between major and minor (and how Stevie Wonder can make minor sound happy).
The marvel of Chilly Gonzales is that unlike even the greatest of acts, there’s no one easily comparable to him. Nothing else like a gonzo gig. Prince live is a bit like Sly Stone or James Brown, Duffy’s indebted to Dusty, Timberlake feels like Jackson, and U2 like slow painful death. Gonzales is like no one… but himself.
Tonight’s gig, in support of his new album “Soft Power” (even though inexplicably its not out in the UK till September?) is the full gonzo experience, with backing from his Canadian friends the Le Together Ensemble.
Akira The Don – of whom there will be more later – summed up the great mans eagerly awaited return on his guaranteed to make you chuckle blog:
“Chilly was everything he used to be and more. The most entertaining thing you will ever see. The most sweat ever seen on one stage. The cartoon ego. The amazing ballads. The showmanship. The piano skills. The implausibly memorable and hooky raps. A brilliant backing band – SoCalled, Katie Moore, Matthew Flowers and Handsome Mocky doing Animal drums“.
The backing band were indeed brilliant, seemingly capable of switching instruments at will, even with Gonzales hammily pretending to correct SoCalled’s faultless piano. The man known as SoCalled may look like someones balding science professor but he’s certainly got skills, taking centre stage with a fabulous few bars of rap as unlikely as finding Egon Spengler from Ghostbusters suddenly spinning on his head while rhyming isotope with dope. It was so good Gonzales stopped the music and insisted he did the whole thing again.
Relations with his ensemble are not always as smooth and a mock argument broke out after “Lets Groove Again“. The band tiring of Gonzo’s constant criticism and storming off stage leaving a distraught Gonzales alone with just his piano for company. Looks like its time for the solo piano segment of the show!
Stood barely a metre behind his piano stool, the sight, sound and speed of Chilly’s fingers as they dart around the grand is simply mesmerising. From the subtlest almost caress of a key to frantic rushes where it seems implausible that two hands alone can create what youre hearing. One bit in particular reveals previously hidden similarities between classical music and the pounding piano sound of Chicago house.
Throughout the first half of the show one audience member high on drugs or his own self importance (possibly both) took every opportunity to bellow incoherently. At first Chilly responded with only withering put downs “oh look we have a fucking arsehole in the crowd“. His irritation grew as the pin drop silence of an impossibly beautiful piano solo was shattered by another idiotic outburst. One more shout and Gonzales leapt from his piano stool raging towards the guilty party, swearing and shaking the sweat from his hair onto him like a dog freshly out of a stream. Still enraged he aimed two great globules of spit at the neanderthal followed for good measure by a swift kick from his elegant shoe.
Although shocking it seemed strangely justified, so much effort, soul and concentration is poured into Gonzales on stage that gobbing on a member of the audience IS transformed into a hugely endearing act!? Stunned audience members pondered whether their own spittle could be put to good use, although thankfully the perpetrator was ejected before a mass phlem-fest could break out.
The band slowly reemerge with Katie Moore and Gonzales singing “You Are” to each other and then Gonzo issues an “Apology” to the band (one of my favourites off the new album):
“I’ve failed as a lover and I’ve failed as a friend”
“You want hits… oh I got hits” Gonzales proclaims before “Let’s Groove Again” his 1999 Kitty-Yo smash, but its “Take Me To Broadway“ that gets the biggest reaction. Gonzo is more Groucho in full Jewish Supervillain MC persona as he bounds the stage, crazy inventive rhymes bursting forth. His Fiest collaboration “Shameless Eyes” keeps the pace suitably high as well as offering Matthew Flowers the chance to step forward and demonstrate his perfect R&B vocals.
When Akira The Don sent me his wonderful unofficial remix of Gonzales’s “Working Together” he probably didn’t imagine a little over a month later he’d be onstage performing it with the man himself! By all accounts the band have been playing it to death on the tour bus, and why not its a work of genius. Akira explodes on like a man who’s spent all evening poised in the wings! After being chastised by Gonzo for bringing a drink with him, he spent most of the song airbourn, twisting, leaping, and crashing down onto the stage. All this and he only did half his verses. Sadly the lyrics were a little lost in the mix but “Working Together” is still the finest song Rolf from the Muppets never wrote.
A faithful cover of “Easy Lover” reminded even those that celebrated Phil Collin’s recent retirement that the guy wrote some great tunes. “Do you really like that!!??” demanded Chilly as the crowd went mad. With braces dangling by his side Gonzo then grilled the audience over what they thought of him, finally admitting that he was only talking so much because the guy backstage said he’s only allowed to play one more, and he wanted to piss him off.
The final piece of pantomime for the evening sees the band trying out that old management bonding technique of standing with your back to a person and then trusting they’ll catch you when you fall back. “You Snooze You Lose” was a fine ending to another magical night with Gonzales and his cohorts.
As Akira The Don deftly concludes:
“Go see them, your life will be enriched”
Map Of The World
So Called Medley
Why Don’t We Disappear
(The Band Thinking)
Let’s Groove Again
Take Me To Broadway
Shameless Eyes / Friend
Working Together (feat. Akira The Don)
You Snooze You Loose
Gonzales – “Soft Power”
Akira The Don is in awe of Gonzo’s big red head and also wrote the only review of Gonzo’s new album you need to read (v.funny).
Chris Lloyd reviews the gig for the final word
My pictures of the ICA gig
Nicola Blommars for the second time in a month showed me up with some excellent shots.
Mc-Q had a busy night getting himself in my pics, being baptised by Gonzo, and taking his own snaps too.