Photo: Jon Bergmann
Moving from the empty winter streets to a full house at The State Room Friday evening, I joined Salt Lake’s dedicated José González fans to see his band, Junip.
The Swedish-based group, having put out several EPs before their latest full-length, Fields, is spreading their sound across North America as a five-piece band. In addition to the core trio of González, drummer Elias Araya and organ master Tobias Winterkorn, Junip is currently touring with an additional percussionist/multi-instrumentalist and bassist.
Shortly after Brooklyn openers, The Acrylics, wrapped up their set of pop-infused tunes, the five Swedes calmly spread across the stage amongst a huge applause. With all eyes on González as he hovered delicately over the crowd, Junip patiently moved into their set behind a Moog drone and pulsing beat of Araya’s kick drum. González, eyes closed and smartly dressed in black, joined in with his audience’s head-bopping trance before slowly approaching the microphone. Opening with the droning ballad “Official,” from their 2006 EP, Junip set the hypnotic, synth-driven stage the rest of the show would follow.
Utilizing the organic sounds of acoustic drums/guitar, backed by Winterkorn’s heavily synthesized, electronic organ loops, Junip was able make the layers seamlessly work together. Most of this can be attributed to González’s distinctly hollow vocals, seemingly over-saturated with echoes and reverb at times, as they complemented the smooth wash of sounds built up by the remaining four members.
Differing significantly from his solo work, in which González’s guitar has been up-front and clearly heard, Junip relies on the instrument as more of a supplementing rhythm machine. Using a classical nylon string guitar fitted with a pickup and taped-off sound hole, González’s finger-picked lines became present in various parts of Junip’s songs, but were mostly overshadowed by electronic elements and steady drum beats.
Highlights of the show included the track “Rope and Summit,” steadily building faster and louder with the help of Winterkorn’s driving keys and the ever-present ‘Afro-beat’ drums. At one point during the show, González set down his guitar in favor of an effects board he picked up off the ground. He backed away from the mic and proceeded to join his percussionists by using a single finger to ‘tap’ along to his own beat. This type of improvisation proved exactly how Junip manages to layer sounds together by adjusting to various ‘musical moods’ during their performances.
After a brief disappearance, the encore featured Junip returning to the stage for two more powerful songs. The tracks, “Tide” and “Far Away,” can be argued as being executed with the most intensity and passion of the entire 13-song set. Once the lights came on and the crowd finally came down from the sound-warping encore, it became clear that González’s many strengths are significantly enhanced in the midst of his talented band.