Published Apr 26, 2015Chilly Gonzales doesn't play by your rules. He makes crude, politically incorrect jokes about colonization. He dresses in a bulky bathrobe on stage. He puts out rap albums, solo piano albums, produces fellow artists' Juno-award winning albums, and then writes a batch of pop music for string quartet. All from a self-described "musical genius."
Historic Theatre Outremont in Montréal was sold out for Chilly's first night back in his hometown. Knowing Gonzo's habit of throwing curveballs at an audience, the atmosphere was charged before the lights dimmed on a stage adorned with piano, four spots for strings, and a drum kit. But when Gonzales finally appeared, he was alone, and quietly murmured his set to life with three gorgeous selections from his Solo Piano records.
A simple set of such intricate melody and dynamics would have satisfied coming from most other pianists, and indeed, Gonzales' playing when alone was most impressive during the night. But after the initial taste of simplicity, it was time for the Chilly variety show to begin.
It's clear that to entertain is Gonzales' forte, rather than to create and sustain a singular mood throughout his concerts. Initially, this approach seems hyperactive and even kitschy, switching between rapping bad puns while playing a pair of bongos, to mini music lessons for the crowd, to the delicate solo etudes from which he has gained his recent notoriety.
Once he's got your attention, however, it seems more likely that Chilly is a man with more talent, ideas and stage tricks than can be contained within one train of thought. Throughout the night, his bold methods of presenting music became increasingly interesting, hilarious, and endearing, mainly because it's evident there's really no one else who could pull off quite the same mixed bag and get away with it.
Gonzales is currently touring his new album, Chambers, which features the German string group Kaiser Quartett, and who are with him on this tour. They played impeccably and gracefully, following Gonzales through every twist and hitting every crescendo ending with ease. Behind Chilly's nonchalant, dark humour lay an obvious foundation of real, heavily rehearsed talent.
The peak of the night was not in the two encores, but at one point before, when Gonzales asked for the house lights to be dimmed completely, so that Theatre Outremont was plunged into near-perfect darkness. In this space, the intimate refain of "Armellodie," from his first Solo Piano record, drifted untethered, allowed to create a fantastic play of imagination. At the piece's end, the crowd rose to their feet — despite Gonzales' pomp and jeer, his subtle touch moved the most.