Jorge Drexler, Union Chapel, Thurs 19th

londres-junho-2008-078.jpg Jorge Drexler was one of South America’s best-kept secrets until he went an won an oscar in 2004 for the soundtrack to Che Guevara flick “The Motorcycle Diaries”. Although the softly-spoken Uruguayan now lives in Spain his appearance at London’s Union Chapel was his first ever UK performance.

Anyone expecting the litlting Uruguayan ‘Milonga’ folk of Drexler’s early albums was to be disappointed. Mr Drexler has come far and picked up a strong experimental streak on the way which he’s not afraid to show off. Live-looped vocals, pre-recorded backing tracks with bleeps, bells and all manner of tinkling effects recorded on his travels around the world featured heavily before, during and after many songs. At one point experimentation veered into the realms of the avante garde when two sidekicks appeared: one carrying a flashing Nintendo-sized hand-held beat-box and the other with a Theremin, those radio wave oscilloscopes you conduct rather than play — last seen by your humble reviewer in the late seventies being coxed into a high-pitched wail by some mad dude on Tomorrow’s World. This wasn’t Milonga, this was seventies Kraut-synth dressed up in Morricone guitarra with a Speedy Gonzalez accent. “The Theremin was used a lot by the Beach Boys,” his entourage proudly informed me afterwards. I wasn’t really sure what to make of that.

londres-junho-2008-082.jpgIf Drexler seemed to want to out-Floyd Floyd in the recording stakes at times – such as on “La infidelidad en la era informatica” — it was, by and large unobtrusive. Personally though, the highlights came when the soundscapes subsided and Drexler used the atmospherics and powerful vibes of the chapel to good effect: the unaccompanied version of his Hollywood-conquering “Al Otro Lado del Rio” (On the Other Side of the River) had the crowd reverently humming along, ditto “Todo se Transforma” (Everything Changes).

The largely Spanish-spekaing audience soon warmed to him and his gentle modesty. English-speakers weren’t forgotten though; inter-song badinage was mostly bilingual and many songs, such as the powerful “Sea” (What Will Be) worked first time even if your Spanish is limited to Ibiza speak-n-spell. Then of course were the covers, “Hold Me Tight” delivered the obligatory sacrifice to the Beatles Gods. A Leonard Cohen number followed and then for encore, came a version of Radiohead’s “High and Dry” from 2006’s album 12 Segundos de Oscuridad. A stunning finale to a major talent’s UK debut.

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