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- ICA, London »
- Gonzales »
Cultural exchange is the phrase on everyone’s lips tonight as the ICA plays host to another Stage of the Art event. Part of a series of concerts planned for the year, the idea is that British performers are sent to play at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo (the Parisian equivalent of the ICA), while French artists – or at least some who are based in France - are sent to play at our own ICA..
This evening’s headliner is the Paris-dwelling, Canadian-bred musical polymath* Gonzales, but first up on the bill are painfully French-disco rock types *Poni Hoax. More Franco slackers dressed in what looks like yesterday’s clothes than bona-fide rockstars , the band tear through a set that includes the rather ace ‘Budapest’ and the new wave disco of ‘Anti-Bodies’ _from their self-titled LP. An appealing mix of sleaze and synths on record, all charm is lost as they do their best to imitate the sounds of Mark E. Smith fronting a Gallic Cure covers band. It’s a sloppy and grating set that quickly loses any of its initial novelty as the band crack jokes about knowing Sebastian Tellier from the stage while shouting into their mics.
Having made a name for himself at the start of the decade with three albums of occasionally comedic electro rap, Gonzales has since reinvented himself - of sorts - with a well received collection of piano works, while stepping back behind the scenes as a key producer/contributor in the new coffee table scene for the likes of Feist and Jamie Lidell.
With such a varied CV under his belt, it’s hard not to wonder which Gonzales we are going to see tonight. Is it to be the arch-prankster of his early days? Or the serious artist whose musical touch has helped at least one singer attain serious stardom (or at the very least helped Apple hock a few more iPods)?
Turns out it’s both as Gonzales takes to his piano and runs through a showcase of old favourites and new numbers from his latest album - the ‘70s MOR inspired Soft Power. Starting off with the mellow soul of ‘Unrequited Love’, Gonzales leads his band, the Le Together Ensemble, through a selection of songs highlighting the man’s ability to craft pitch perfect pop songs in the vein of Fleetwood Mac and ELO. It’s an impressive display that reveals just why he’s proven so successful in working with other artists operating on a similar plain. Unfortunately, things take a turn towards the wrongfully absurd when old hip hop flavoured tracks like ‘Let’s Groove Again’ _are rolled out and the audience is subjected to a series of interactive skits - including one that allows us to ‘hear’ the band member’s internal thoughts via a pre-recorded backing track. It’s a love it or leave it affair that’s underscored by the Muppet Show silliness of set closer _‘Working Together’ and the decision to play _‘Easy Lover’ _during the encore.
A crowd pleasing performance? Certainly, but at the end of it, there’s a lingering suspicion that if Gonzales could learn to refrain from the pranks and let the songs speak for themselves, he might avoid the decent into ingratiating musical theatre that plagues much of tonight and find himself rightfully elevated to the same leagues as the now more famous artists he’s worked with.
Still, for all the needless excess, there’s something to be said for a performer who leaps into the crowd mid-song to take snapshots of himself with members of the audience. No matter what you may think about Gonzales, he’s certainly hard to forget.
Photo: Sim Gil
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