The Hub, Edinburgh – 8/8/15
by Paul Rodger
Casting a debonair light over the start of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival was the ever animated and interactively entertaining Chilly Gonzales. The modern day piano virtuoso and self-proclaimed “musical genius” nicknamed Gonzo – real name Jason Beck – lit up the city centre’s Hub venue with his captivating set and comical, informative – and slightly pretentious – personality. Performing alongside Hamburg’s Kaiser Quartett and drummer Joe Flory, Gonzales performed flawlessly his latest album Chambers.
Starting his set with numbers from his initial two piano records, Solo Piano I and Solo Piano II, Gonzales – in between his playful interactions with the audience – broke down into ironic rap melodies; following up with tracks from his 2010 piano-pop release Ivory Tower. In between songs, his personality was as lively as his energetic and intense head thrusting renditions. Initially opening up to the audience, Gonzales introduced himself, briefly discussing his Canadian background and complementing the crowd on his love of Scotland and the festival – having played at the Fringe two years ago on the comedy circuit. Throwing out edgy gags, such as playing Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire in negative E minor in jest, before commenting that it’s like 1939 Warsaw – quipping that “the Germans love that joke” – introduced him as not your conventionally courteous, clean-cut, and crisp suited pianist.
Dressed in a housecoat, slippers, and with ragged, sweat soaked hair and a 5 o’clock shadow, Gonzales began his second interlude by discussing rap music – stating that it’s “the most important genre of our time”. With his borderline statements and narcissistic, subversive tendencies, Gonzales said mockingly, yet candidly, that he believes “we get the music we deserve”; depicting rap as the “dirty mirror” we stare into nowadays for answers and musical retreat. However, looking beyond his ostentatious exuberance and weighty hubris is a man of extraordinary and unmistakable individual talent, and expansive musical insight. Jibing between stand-up style routine and resonating solos and symphonies, Gonzales, revealing his technical knowledge, poses himself in the position of a wacky musical chemist; breaking down the instrument in front of him into a scientific like practice. Continuing his set, the established musical alchemist, having honed his rhythmic abilities as a drummer in his teens and as an electro pop, “king of the underground” MC in the 90s, Gonzales peels back his perfectly coordinated and nuanced notes, drawing attention to the simple keys that serve as the fundamental building blocks in contemporary pop music, from Daft Punk to Taylor Swift, and referring to piano progressives Mozart and Stravinsky.
With his ego spilling over at times – haranguing the audience for clapping at “68%” when himself and his accompanying quartet and drummer were at “100%” – reflects the demanding character of an individual that admitted his flawed obnoxiousness. Informing the crowd to relax beforehand and that they were in the “the land of Chilly” for a few hours implied a satirical, parody like awareness – subverting the musical world, and himself, through a perfect balance of musical deftness and comical charm.
Like him or not, Gonzales is a uniquely gifted artist, offering informative theoretical guidance and beautifully crafted and original compositions, in an age of widespread musical absurdity, disillusionment and vanity.