Front Page Reviews & AIR
Junip and the Sage Tiger Come Alive
Before the show, April, 2011
Only when something awakens such passion, indecision, or tumult in me that it necessitates frenzied thought, do I keep a journal. Since I’ve found out about Junip’s upcoming show in Salt Lake City on April 29th, I’ve been journaling a lot. Junip is a stellar band pieced together by silky-voiced Swede and songwriter José González. Those who missed González solo stuff, Veneer (2006) and In Our Nature (2007), might be unaware of this 33 year-old vestige from the age of folk. I first heard him on XM radio back in the day; otherwise I might be in the dark, too. And what a loss that would be. Naturally it was thunderous news when I heard that Junip’s 8 week tour of the U.S. and Canada would include a stop for their first gig ever in Salt Lake City—a few miles from my house.
What’s the date of the show? Noooo! The hitch: my wife and I are expecting a child, due some time during the week preceding the Junip concert. This was existential territory. Would I seriously consider going to this show if it meant being late for my wife’s labor or missing it entirely or leaving her alone for the night with our newborn during his first week of life? My journals chronicle a series of negotiations with my wife, involving bargaining and contractual banter.
Junip evolved from José’s teenage friendship with drummer Elias Alaya. They met Tobias Winterkorn at shows around town, and he joined the sporadic recording sessions, adding heavy keyboard grooves, from Moog to organ. Untold numbers of González songs had been stewing amongst the Swedish trio since their first and only release, Black Refuge EP, in 2005; and these songs came forth full formed on Fields in 2010. It is exquisitely balanced and moody in the right places. Each song vibrates at a fresh frequency and rhythm. Ranking at #95 on NPR’s top 100 listener picks of 2010 was way lower than deserved. I’d been breathing it in and journaling about it—and hoping they would tour the US, but throughout the Fall of 2011 they toured exclusively in Europe.
I felt strongly that more people had to know about Jose and Junip, especially in Utah where the “indie” music scene is cooler than outsiders would guess. I lauded the quality of the music and innovations on Fields to anyone who would listen. In fact, I embarked on a musical mission to let others whose tastes would resonate with Junip know about them. To increase the odds, I requested more airplay for them on community radio KRCL. Over the next few weeks the airplay really took off locally in Utah, and one or two of my friends even received some missionary Fields “tracks” from me on mix CDs. Despite the fact that I wanted the ripple effects of my Junip-spreading campaign to be huge, the deepest impact of my missionary work, like all missionary work, was on the missionary himself. My love for Junip grew stronger. Finally, the decision is made. I will go to the show.
One day on KRCL, their coolest DJ – Ebay Jamil Hamilton – played Junip’s “Sweet and Bitter” in response to my call-in request for a Junip song dedicated to my baby in utero—who we had tentatively named Sage Tiger. I let Ebay pick the song. As I listened to “Sweet and Bitter” on KRCL, I began to have thoughts about my upcoming fatherhood—about how there would inevitably be both sweet and bitter aspects. What would they be? I will surely have to give up a lot of my nighttime concert and jamming activities. Maybe also a lot of ski days. But, I’m going to be a father! This is the experience of regeneration for which I have waited for nine years. With Ebay’s dedication (and he also found a follow-up song that was called “A Tiger in Your Tank”) I realized that, even through the sacrifices to come, becoming a parent would be a far better thing for myself and for the world. Of course, all of this tumult inspired madly scribbled journal entries.
DJ Ebay Jamil Hamilton
Listening to Junip actually provides me with the fortitude to endure the final weeks of our pregnancy, appointments, and delayed plans. Sage Tiger is hanging tight in there, not wanting to come out yet. The journals show anxiety for fatherhood, that it will be the crux of my developing identity. Gotta be immersed and dedicated to my new disciple. Gotta “Rope and Summit.” Gotta teach him to be about his father’s business, which is rocking out to Junip!
My friend and band-mate Carlos will join me at the Junip show. I’ve talked him—my disciple!—into it. I know that from his musical experience in Brazil, his tastes might gravitate to Junip’s samba strumming and rhythms; I’m basing that on the first time that I saw his dreadlocks pour over his odd Brazilian banjo, two years ago. Plus, in our nascent band together, Carlos often shows his love for synth electronic flavors. I feel it will resonate with him and assist in awakening his and our musical potential.
On April 15th, my journal shows trepidation concerning a sold-out show. Carlos locks in his attendance, but we don’t have tickets yet. He will leave a baby at home with wife for the evening, and he seems to have accomplished this feat effortlessly. Perhaps the disciple has something to teach the master?
On April 26th, three days before the concert, I am euphoric. I have finally gone through the State Room’s online ticketing process, and have two printed-at-home tickets in hand! Despite my prompting, Carlos refuses to hear Junip’s albums before the show. He tells methat he prefers the experience of hearing a band live with virgin ears. He calls the band Julip. I don’t bother to correct him.
April 28th: one day before the show. Still no baby. No fatherhood. When? Who? What?
At the Show
The due date has well-passed, and no baby arrived. We are at the State Room. There’s a hulking stage with clear sight lines, a floor for 100 in front and long sloping aisles and theater seating swooping backwards to beer fonts. The audience mostly appears to be English teachers like me. I maintain hope that I will find other like-minded people and connect with them. I expected to see more hipsters, but no. Many of these people are probably even parents. So I’m in good company: teachers and parents, Junip fans all. Not only are they dressed in casual-cool, but they also make great conversation and don’t push in line! If this is a Junip crowd, then I think I have found my crowd.
I am pleasantly distracted at 8:55, thinking about my wife at home. How sympathetic she has been to my worries and excitements about the transition into fatherhood. My ears are open to whatever enlightenment the music has to offer me tonight.
The Acrylics open up at 9:00. They are an 80s style New York pop band with a guy/girl combo singing and playing up front. It’s dead silent between their songs. They play at half the volume that they could in this 300 capacity club, courteously leaving sonic space for Junip to follow with their full power.
Lights come up halfway, and suddenly shadowy José is standing center stage with a beat up Spanish guitar with some duct tape on it. Their first song is ethereal and loud, full of howling winds—something not released on Fields. I feel like maybe an inferior fan to these others around me, because I don’t recognize that opener. José stands still, as if in meditation, with his mic and Spanish guitar. To his left there’s a multi-instrumentalist seated that uses congas, guiro, bells, and keyboard loops. At one point the band has four keyboards going strong. All the music seems to be layered and deeply textured. The sound of a Fender Rhodes keyboard rises in the mix and rips the air, which I take as my call to the front rows, standing. Wait, who is that I see front and center? Isn’t that Ebay from KRCL? Many people find comfort in the faith on their own, and I am encouraged to see him.
Interspersed with powerful bursts, Gonzalez’s voice is still mellow enough to charm a snake charmer. Almost always, the chords are driven by an urgent electronic pulse. I am so immersed in everything, but some recessed part of my mind holds on to the possibility that baby Sage Tiger’s arrival could be tonight. I check for flashes on the phone that would indicate I have to leave early for my wife’s labor. Nothing. I am relieved. I think: he’d better wait until tomorrow, if he knows what’s good for him. Already thinking like a father.
Although it has been said that José seldom shows a smile on stage and rarely interacts with the audience, this evening he manages to talk about how he’s enjoying the city, and to thank the crowd several times, wish them pleasantries, and celebrate the birthday of bass player Jan. Maybe a few new converts, like Carlos, are trying hard to dig the booming vibes.
I can tell he is getting down with Junip, but he’s struggling with the message. He looks for an engagement point, but he finds none. His difficulty in comprehending the lyrics might be because of the “virgin ears” policy. Carlos is left wondering if José has sung in English, Swedish, or “Argentine”.
Junip plays for an hour and twenty, projecting a repertoire of decade-spanning songs, some led by E.L.O.-like synths, others by persistently concentrated drumbeats by stone-faced Elias on the trap set, and the softly present strings, plucked by José, soaked in samba and jazz. A great tune from the eponymous EP, “Rope and Summit,” is stellar live, slowed down slightly in tempo, and still driving straight to some sweaty mountaintop destination.
Still no news from my wife. I trust that she is okay, waiting at home and I admire her patience for parenthood to start. Maybe, for me it has already started just at this moment. All steps of this adventure will come at the right time. The words to “Don’t Let it Pass” assure me of this, sung by José as I swear he looks briefly but with comprehension into my eyes in the front row.
Where nothing is compromised/
Nothing is lost/
Everything is realized/
Nothing is crossed. Don't let it pass.
Before the end of the show, we get to experience “Far Away” and “Without You,” two lonely songs that gallop across the plains then plug into a wall of sound.
After the Show
I leave the State Room anxious to know what Carlos thought. Maybe he missed most of the lyrics, but he felt something in that room that was ineffable. He is pretty tired at this point and probably preoccupied with his wife and one-year old at home. He sums up by repeating twice on the walk to the car, “Julip is legit!” I give him a burned copy of Fields as he exits my car in Ogden. It’s silent in my car as I drive the final mile to my house. I’m going to be a father.
The work of spreading the word about Junip turned out to impact no one else quite as much as myself. The experience and anticipation leading up to that concert are still with me today and stand as one of my life’s peak moments. Five days after the show, all went well with the birth, though it tried and tested us. With my son Sage Tiger over a year old now, the opportunities in this mission field of fatherhood have begun to include music, sound effects, la guitarra (“la gui”—his first word!), synthesizer, and outdoor adventures. Junip fits right in there with us, striking that odd alchemy of guitar, synths, and mountain climbing.
In the small hours of one night this week, it hits me: the immensity of the task I’ve taken on. In a tenuous night of sleep deprivation, I’ve lain down on a knit rug, propped up by a husband pillow (how appropriate, I reflect) to lull Sage back to sleep. At times like this, any movement I make intuits a cue for him to relax, or to tense, and to develop accordingly. It’s up to me to see that he views the world as welcoming and loving, and sometimes I am afraid of failure. Music helps. Our child runs his fingers through my chest hair and finally sleeps; Junip’s “Sweet and Bitter” plays in my head and becomes his lullaby. So, this is the sweet and bitter taste, which I had anticipated since Ebay’s radio dedication. Sage Tiger is here now, and listening to Junip with him is sweet indeed.