Show Review + Photos: Junip in Atlanta, GA [The Earl]

by Beth Yeckley

A lot of good music (and I suppose, some really bad music) can carve a place in your mind for days, even weeks. Especially junip3after live shows, you’re all wrapped up in the words and the movements and the sounds that pound from the stage to the floor and up into your being.

24 hours after seeing Junip live, it was all I could think about. And not just me—my two friends who accompanied me devoured the album all day. 48 hours after seeing Junip I had listened to the album five times, and I can’t stop.

If you don’t see the band live, there’s a good chance that you’ll assume it’s José González, and his band. In reality, it’s not him at all (as a solo gig, he would have been playing the Variety Playhouse or maybe even The Tabernacle, with tickets priced in the 20s and 30s instead of the mere 15 dollars it cost to see the band at The Earl). Instead, it’s a progression that has been in the making for years now. Most don’t know that Junip’s first EP, Black Refuge, actually released in 2004—the prodigy of González (vocals, guitar), Elias Araya (drums), and Tobias Winterkorn (organ, synth). It is a musical brain trust of three men (a total of five on tour, with the help of Joel Wästberg and Johan Grettve) that has pushed to create an immersive and magnified experience within their music.

There is a seriousness to the music, a complete infatuation with the intricacy and intensity that each member is responsible for conjuring up, and at the same time, it’s as though they were made only for this one thing, this musical outburst.

From the start, “Rope & Summit” set the tone for what the night would be: a heavily percussive show drenched in bass, accented by brilliant synth patches and rich organ play, and of course tied together by González’s vocals and crisp acoustic. Junip played several tracks off of the new album, Fields, as well as “Black Refuge” off their first EP and “Far Away” off of their latest EP.

The percussive operation of Elias Araya and Joel Wästberg is an absolute privilege to watch live. Araya barely looked up the entire time from the back of the stage—his head was down, his hands constantly moving to create the deeper sounds on the toms. Wästberg was at the front on the congas with a myriad of other homemade instruments, and also what looked like a drum pad. On “Howl” he taped an empty sugar container (the glass kind you’d find at a diner) to the top of one of the congas, achieving that ting ting-ting ting ting ting ting ting sound that breaks up the verses. On the following song played, “Sweet & Bitter” (which was one of the best songs of the night), he tapped against a cymbal that rested on an egg crate and had a chain attached to its top.

Winterkorn played with ferocity in the center back of the stage, drowning the audience in colorful sounds. For me, his playing wasn’t just the sounds, but his movements. He’d stand up and loom over the keys, sit down and cross his arms playing the synth and the organ, pound his hands so that his hair would flutter against his face. As the band made its way off stage after “Far Away,” a synth loop was left trailing at the end of the song, rumbling and ballooning in its electronic chatter, until the band emerged to play its encore.

“Without You” was one of the most moving performances of the show. Wästberg jumped on the sax as the keys pounded away and the guitar strings were picked and plucked. Araya thumped away on the low tom and the disco ball that hung from his drum set burst into light beams, entrancing the crowd. “Sweet & Bitter” was also uniquely intriguing because all the members turned to one side and played an instrument, some switching off, like Grettve putting down the bass and playing a miniature keyboard. González pulled two effects pedals up to the mic and played them, which definitely left an impression on the crowd.

The night ended with a cover of U2’s “With or Without You,” joined by Sharon Van Etten and her band. She and González traded off on vocals, harmonizing as they sang, “And you give, and you give, and you give yourself away.”

You’d be hard pressed to find Junip chatting on the stage and taking breaks between songs. The band moved through the set without pause, at times leaving the crowd hanging mid-moment as the song abruptly ended; at others, there was a residue at the end of the song that burst into the next, never looking back. The entire Junip experience is a layered and mesmerizing discovery of the music’s intricate parts, its vast ability to render an audience hopelessly enthralled with its details, both evident and obscure. If you get to catch them live on the next tours, I think you’ll get what I mean.

photos by Beth Yeckley