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Gonzales Makes a Splash at WeHo Performance

March 21, 2011

Pianist/rapper/electronic music sensation Gonzales, a self-proclaimed “entertainer,” lived up to his title at a concert Saturday night at West Hollywood’s Skybar.

Patrons knew they were in for a unique performance experience as soon as they walked into the scenic venue, encountering a sign warning that Gonzales, aka Chilly Gonzales aka Jason Charles Beck, prefers complete silence when he performs.

“I’m a celebrity in Europe,” he explains, only half-sarcastically. “When people come to my shows they’re silent.”

However, the sign seemed to just be another indication of the Canadian artist’s offbeat sense of humor, evident in his off-kilter rap lyrics and his purposefully disheveled appearance, taking to the stage in a red plaid robe and sheepskin slippers.

His frantic appearance translated into his performance energy as he wordlessly entered the venue, sat down at his piano and immediately began banging out furious melodies. He was joined only by a drummer, who tapped dutifully along with Gonzales’ piano playing behind a velvet rope, the only thing separating the performers from the crowd, who lounged at plush pool-side tables at the strikingly beautiful venue, perched high in the hills of the Sunset Strip.

The crowd watched motionless as Gonzales transitioned from a piano number to a performance of “The Grudge,” off his latest album, Ivory Tower, released in March of last year. He spewed out angry rap lyrics punctuated by skillfully played piano solos –an indication of his classical training at McGill University –which warranted head bobbing and awe from the audience, with whispers of “This guy’s good,” floating among the tea-light lit trees throughout the open air space.

Another audience member described him as “a classical Eminem,” as he continued on in his set, playing another haunting, furious piano solo, his bedhead swirling in front of his face as his body heaved along with the music, followed by more rapping –some verses so long Gonzales seemed at the end of his breath delivering them–intermixed with jazzy interludes.

Four songs in, Gonzales finally addressed his audience, who at this point had completely filled the picturesque space and seemed to be teetering at the central pool’s edge. “Good evening, I’m trying to speak as little as possible but I have to know, do you like the rap?,” he asked.

The audience responded in a supportive uproar, making it clear that they came here to hear Gonzales’ signature rhymes. “If you don’t like Rick Ross, if you don’t like today’s rap, you’re probably a racist,” he joked. “If I didn’t like rap I wouldn’t be a man of my time.”

He took a break from his piano playing for his next song, diving into a freestyle rap that made comic pop culture references to Larry David and The Gossip, accompanied only by a quiet drumming, as he spit out the main verse: “I believe the next Einstein will write rhymes.”

Next he played “The Tourist” off his 2005 release Solo Piano, explaining to the audience –in both story and song form– that his piano riff was sampled by popular rap artist, Drake, who used three minutes of his composition in his “So Far Gone” mixtape without appropriately crediting him. The song was in typical Gonzales style, blending musical performance with a stand-up comedy delivery.

Peaches, a surprise guest, joined Gonzales on-stage for his next song, belting out a cover of Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” with throaty sadness to a wildly responsive audience, whistling and cheering as her vocal strength increased as the song progressed.

Peaches returned to her table nestled by the stage, as Gonzales sang about beans (yes, beans) to chords from Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” followed by his up-tempo rap “Higher Than You” off his 2000 LP The Entertainist.

After poking fun at west coast rap producers –something within his rights given that Gonzales is a Grammy-nominated music producer himself – by playing a hypothetical rap remix of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight,” it was time for the second surprise guest of the night, with Feist coming on to an audience uproar as she sang a cover of “Oops (Oh My)” by Tweet.

Peaches came back to join in as Gonzales played along on his piano, and the two women ended the night with a splash –literally—as they took off their shoes and walked fully-clothed into Skybar’s pool to loud applause. As Feist and Peaches ran out of the venue in their sopping wet clothes for the grand finale, it was clear the show was over.

Gonzales stood, and bowed his head, wet with sweat from his passionate and very movement-intensive piano playing, and walked off as silently as he came in.

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