You don’t have to be a fan of classical music to appreciate Chilly Gonzales. You do, however, need to be able to appreciate the art of music, across disciplines, and be open to hearing unexpected genres cross in unexpected ways.
Listening to Gonzales on a record is a beautiful thing, it’s calming and at times alarming. Seeing him live, on the other hand, is a combination of hearing the science of music firsthand and being highly entertained. Yes, entertained. He is, after all, an entertainer. Gonzales is also a musical genius and if he was not a self-proclaimed one, someone would have named him as such out loud. News publications have wondered if he was a madman, but today that whole cocky confession is a joke which Gonzales shares with the audience during a live show. He admits he lives in his own fantasy.
In 2012, Gonzales released Solo Piano II, an album that, without understatement, brought modern classical music into the pop culture world. Since then he has worked on a collaboration with Daft Punk and more recently with Boys Noize on Octave Minds where his piano songs turn to, in his own words, “bangers.” Last month “Gonzo” released Chambers, an album that was written specifically for Germany’s Kaiser Quartett, who introduced him to chamber music.
The album is a modern take on the burgeoning middle class Chamber music coloured by the vivid strings of the Kaiser Quartett. This collaboration is not a surprise – the quartet are an incredibly talented bunch joined by an equally talented English drummer, Joe Flory, in the back “keeping it snappy.” Just past the half point of the 2 hour show, the group of them played out a full track in complete, “sexually romantic” darkness with only a few moments of spotlight on Joe playing a trumpet. Even in blindness the music was seamless.
Toronto’s Koerner Hall is one of the best sounding venues in Canada, if not the world, and it is also a part of The Royal Conservatory of Music, where Gonzales studied, so it was a “very touching homecoming.” With a short introduction, Gonzales entered the stage in his signature robe and sleepers and proceeded straight into Solo Piano II. After a brief solo performance he was joined by the Kaiser Quartett to play a few tracks from Chambers, starting with “Sweet Burden” and “Odessa.” While Gonzales is vigorously using all of the keys with dramatic and aggressive precision, the Kaiser foursome bring a new level of emotion to his music with urging and tearful strings that produce an unimaginable variety of sounds under Chilly’s direction. Quartett’s introduction was a demonstration of the said variety of musical notes and techniques with a visual description by Chilly: “It’s like a sneaky mouse getting it’s cheese – he-he-he.”
“Advantage Points,” one of the tracks from Chambers, was an intensely powerful performance. You can imagine the breadth of sound while listening to it on your iPod, but that will never compare to what it actually sounds like live, with every note hitting the audience like a dart. Overall, Chambers is a fairly heavy album with dramatic high notes and unexpected turns. As the tension was beginning to build up, Gonzales brought out his bongos, stating that he was a fan of music reduction, saying more with less, which inevitably lead to the charmingly offensive “Bongo Monologue.” As in every Gonzales show, in between the clean, wonderful piano, there is an occasional rap. At a later point, with the audience participating in the hum-along, Gonzo also rapped “Supervillain Music,” “The Grudge” from Ivory Tower and “(I’m not) A Musical Genius” during the anchor.
After playing compositions from across his entire repertoire, not playing “Hotel California,” teaching a few lessons, rapping while standing on the piano (a luxury Glenn Gould Studio didn’t allow a few years back), and playing a 2-song anchor, Chilly Gonzales wrapped up the show with two standing ovations.
Even with the discography Chilly carries not many people know who he is, but once they find out they never forget. The next show is already anticipated.