Junip @ The Gate, Cardiff 10.09.11

What does Jose Gonzalez do when he’s not being Jose Gonzalez? He plays in Junip, who despite having a far lower profile than the man himself, might just be one of those ‘side projects’ that turn out to be more interesting than the main event. Cardiff very nearly didn’t get to find this out – it was only the rescheduling of a cancelled solo date that led to the band coming to town at all. But few in the crowd can have been disappointed with the change of plan. While Gonzales as a solo artist is rightfully revered, Junip have a kick that Jose’s plucky plucking doesn’t quite deliver.

Sep 10th, 2011 at The Gate, Cardiff / By Adam Corner
Junip It was a gig of two halves. The first 20 minutes drew a strangely subdued response from the audience, who despite breaking into (politely) rapturous applause between songs, were deadly silent and stock-still during them. With the crowd inexplicably seated expectantly on the floor (when they could have been standing), the band seemed to pick up on the slightly stilted atmosphere and the initial material never quite got going. Even standout track ‘Without You’ – like a more muscular and pulsating Lali Puna – couldn’t quite break through the audience’s reluctance to be upstanding.

Finally, the instruction came from the stage to get up and get into it – and the second half of the show shifted gear in an excellent way. Gonzalez’ solo material is delicate and precise, but Junip got their groove on, making good use of some gently rumbling Moog bass lines and a low-slung rhythmic drive. Despite Gonzalez’ reputation as a virtuoso performer, in Junip it’s the rhythm section that takes centre stage. This means that the likes of ‘Rope & Summit’ and ‘Always’ are given a beefed-up treatment that lifts them out of the somewhat mild-mannered zone they occupy on record.
With a drummer and a percussionist making up 2/5 of the band, the best moments come when the well-crafted melodies give way to a chuggy groove, and the songs settle into the kind of hypnotic haze that bands like Led Zeppelin perfected. That might seem like a strange reference point for Jose Gonzalez, but Junip are closer in spirit to the slow-burn smokeyness of 70s rock than the acoustic purity of 60s folk that informs Gonzalez’ solo work.

By the time the encore of ‘In Every Direction’ rounded off the night, the crowd had just about managed to begin tentatively moving their bodies in time to the music – yep, actually dancing. Maybe everyone was expecting a quieter show: to be fair, the live rendering of the Junip catalogue is significantly more heavyweight than on record. But Jose Gonzalez + rippling bass Moog + double helping of drums = music to swing and sway to. So despite the initial vibe-sabotage by the school-assembly brigade, the rhythm won in the end.