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Gonzales is so typically Canadian that seeing him perform in a foreign country makes me want to cry tears of simultaneous pride and shame. "A nation of talented dorks", I think, watching him alternate with alarming dexterity between the ridiculous and the heart-breaking. "That’s what we are." I keep this epiphany about my countrymen’s elusive national identity to myself; to my friend, a Barcelona native, I say only: “This is very typical in Canada, this melange of music and comedy.” I don’t know if this is actually true. I just need something to say by way of explanation – Gonzales is playing ‘Beat It’ on the kazoo, and I am the cultural insider.
Things hadn’t started out this way. We entered the Placa del Rei to find an exquisite and sombre scene: rows of wooden chairs set out in the courtyard of a 600-year-old gothic church, its stone walls age-blackened and crumbling. A soaring clock tower dwarfed the stage; people had probably died building that tower.
“We ain’t in Kansas anymore,” I whispered to my friend.
The place was rammed but there was hardly any noise; people spoke to each other in the hushed tones of the reverent. Enter Gonzales wearing a scientist’s lab coat and white gloves. He sat down at the piano – the stool behind the drum kit stayed empty. He didn’t speak but began to play: the song was ‘Gogol’, the slow, haunting opening track off of _Solo Piano. We were 30 seconds into the show and the drama had already reached Shakespearian proportions. The audience was utterly silent. Gonzales rocked back and forth. Low lights played on ancient archways. I listened with my head turned away, fixating on the gargoyles that threatened to crash from the eaves of the church. A warm breeze blew and I shut my eyes; melodies floated up, up, and I was suddenly lost in a world of twilight and brave tears.
Fast forward: a voice cuts through the trance. “Grassiass, grassiass. That song was in a meenor chord. I like meenor chords.” Gonzales straddles the piano bench, microphone in hand. He pronounces the Spanish words like they were English. “There are meenor chords and _mahjor chords. When you learn to play piano, everything is in mahjor chords. That never made sense to me. That’s just false optimism.”_ The crowd laughs obligingly. “Especially since my piano teacher used to rub up against me while I played, and she smelled terrible.”
He pauses. “There’s nothing mahjor about that!”
Holy Christ, the man’s a comedian as well.
He goes on to demonstrate how, as a child, he used to change the songs he learned from his foul-smelling, possibly sexually abusive mentor from major key into minor key. “You just have to move your finger over one!” he cries, transforming ‘Heart and Soul’ into a melancholy novelty wrapped around a pop-piano framework. “It’s more realistic this way, isn’t it?” God, it’s so true. He follows this with a re-worked minor-key version of the Rocky theme music and some facial miming. We are highly amused. But then it comes again – before we even realise what’s happening, we’re back on planet heavy. Minor Rocky somehow morphs into the hypnotic ‘Salon Salloon’, which in turn becomes an amalgam of Solo Piano selections and improvisation that swells and drops and swells again, until we’re in sad-eyed pieces. By the time Gonzales pauses to invite Mocky, “a fellow Canadian”, on stage, I’m desperate for a snuggle. “Quick! Do something funny! It’s all so overwhelming!”
Someone must have heard me (presumably God, given the venue) because when I zone back in Gonzales and Mocky are running around the stage, fists pumping, dressed in matching tracksuits and sweatbands. Go, Team Canada – fuckin’ give ‘er. A spirited cover of ‘Saturday Night Fever’ kick-starts an ‘80s medley that ends with the pair standing before the audience, cranking their tiny kazoos, singing ‘Beat It’ in trembling falsetto whispers. In the space of a few minutes I’m taken from the brink of religious conversion to Mario Kart and oversized joints in someone’s grade eight basement. The crowd whistles and laughs. Gonzales and Mocky bow, wave, and leave the stage. “Well, that’s it,” I think. “Ha ha, what a good laugh we’ve had. Thanks, boys!”
A few minutes later Gonzales comes back out, alone. He plays the opening notes of ‘Armmelodie’, the most quietly beautiful of Solo Piano’s songs, and the lights dim before closing completely. We sit listening in the dark, a mood-stunned crowd being rocked to sleep on the lullaby of a stout man in a sweatband. I look around and savour it. It makes me proud to be American. Or something like that.
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