Photo courtesy of Massey Hall/Malcolm Cook.
Audacious, talented, campy, insightful and entertaining. Chilly Gonzales owns it all proudly. Gonzales (born Jason Beck) joined forces with Germany’s Kaiser Quartett to delight a packed house at Toronto’s Massey Hall last Friday night.
Toronto raised, Gonzales was in town as part of the “Live at Massey Hall” series which seeks to celebrate Canadian artists. The show opened with a set by Toronto native Alejandra Ribera. Her voice and song-style is distinctive and she clearly had many fans in the room.
The real fun however, came with the main act. The Kaiser Quartett entered first, instruments in hand. A few beats later, Gonzales appeared to fervent applause. His stage appearance is as wacky as he is, dressed in a Chinese silk brocade smoking jacket, he evoked another time and place. (Imagine that the music gods threw Marvel Comic’s Doc Oc, Liberace, Hugh Hefner and Adam Yauch into a blender; it’s just possible that Chilly Gonzales would be the result.) Gonzales soaked in the adulation for a moment, took his seat at the piano and began.
A great many of the pieces played during the evening came from Gonzales’ most recent album, Chambers. His near-classical compositions are eclectic. Sometimes soothing, sometimes rousing, they draw inspiration from everywhere. His appeal is wide – though deeply rooted in classical music, he has worked with Peaches, Fiest, Drake and Daft Punk. He is not easily defined and seems to welcome creative fusion. Part concert, part music lesson, part farce, Gonzales weaves together a show that surprises and educates. This was evident as he turned the Kaiser Quartett (Adam Zolynski, Jansen Folkers, Ingmar Süberkrüb and Martin Bentz) into his “sampler.” He dissected modern electronic beats and emulated the parts on violins and cello. Through humour, he built a case that everything we love about today’s music existed throughout musical history.
Beckoning to all rap artists out there, Gonzales – a rapper himself – prefaced his “Sample This” by saying that the title is actually an invitation as much as a statement. (Through proper legal channels, of course.) He encouraged the audience to take part in a thought experiment, “rap along in your mind.” The lessons of the night included major vs. minor keys and understanding arpeggios, and well as music history lessons that highlighted familiar motifs.
The show was also experientially challenging. One piece was played with all the lights out. With little more that a soft glow from exit signs, the audience heard the music live and pure – no spectacle or diversions. In an age of perpetual multi-tasking and preoccupation, it’s a wonder to experience an entire auditorium silent and focused on art.
Gonzales and the quartet deftly played through pieces like Advantage Points, Prelude to a Feud, The Grudge and White Keys. With the last notes of the main set, the entire room paid tribute in a heartfelt standing ovation.
The short encore included a hilarious, fast-paced recap of the entire show and a hometown guest appearance. Leslie Feist arrived in time to allow for some staged comic relief and a very sweet ode about her friendship with Gonzales. There’s no doubt that the live Chilly Gonzales and Kaiser Quartett show serves to elevate and enhance his music. It’s also a fantastic concert experience like no other.