I hadn't heard of Os Mutantes prior to this show, but some people whose musical taste I respect had. Indeed, so intense was their excitement that I decided to look up some info on the band. What I learned was more than enough to make me put this show on the calendar: they emerged as part of Brazil's Tropicalia movement (which I haven't heard besides Tom Ze, who's pretty cool, but have read enough about to be intrigued); they released a record on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label (which, incidentally, introduced Tom Ze to the English-speaking world); and they can count among their fans Kurt Cobain, Beck and Flea.
There were already about sixty people at Neurolux when I arrived, most of whom chose to sit out on the patio (ahh, warm weather at last). When Os Mutantes played, I counted about a hundred. The crowd was almost a roster of local musicians: Cameron Andreas, Josh Gross, Sam and Catherine Merrick, Louis McFarland, Ben Kirby, Amber Pollard, Jeremy Jensen, Joel Wallace, Holly Johnson, Brion Rushton, Sara Mclean (Vagerfly), Christopher Smith, Erik Butterworth and probably some other people I'm forgetting (I think I saw Andrew Bagley for a second, but I'm not 100% positive).
Argentinian rock band Capsula opened the show. Even leaving their "Moonage Daydream" cover aside, their look (Martin Guevara's black-and-white long-sleeve shirt and mop-top haircut, Coni Lisica's silver glam jacket) and their sound (blues-based, three/four-minute bursts) screamed 60's and 70's hard rock. As self-conscious as the whole package was, however, they still managed to break on through. It may have helped that they hail from Buenos Aires and not, say, New York or Los Angeles; as with, say, English lads playing American blues and R&B in the 60's, their slight cultural distance could've lent a freshness to their formalism. Or it could've just boiled down to the fact that they were really friggin' good: solid meat-and-potatoes songwriting, buoyant basslines, sturdy drums, slashing riffs and an almost painterly use of distortion. Their good cheer and high energy (lots of jumping and gesturing and hopping down onto the dance floor) were definite pluses as well. The crowd got their nod-and-groove on fairly quickly. By the end of the set, the dance floor was full and bubbling with activity.
Os Mutantes played soon after. In a way, this set reminded me of one of my favorite albums of recent years, Leonard Cohen's Live in London. If you haven't heard it, it's a fine piece of work: Cohen and his band plow through forty years' worth of songs like a well-oiled machine, and their playfulness and casual confidence radiate good will and gratitude. You could say all of the above about Sergio Dias and company here. Dias may have looked a bit like Harold Bloom, but he played guitar like Hendrix or Van Halen (his voice had an impressive high end too). His fellow musicians kept pace with him whether the songs called for folk-rock or psychedelic rock or blues or pop or Latin music or funk or disco or Indian chants. I was already prepared to call this one of the best shows I've seen this year--and judging from all the dancing and cheering, the crowd was too--but then, just as the band finished their encore, Sara Mclean climbed onstage and whispered in Sergio Dias's ear. After she climbed down, Dias announced that he and Esmeria Bulgari would play one final number "for a beautiful lady": "Baby," a lovely Caetano Veloso ballad that Os Mutantes played both on their 1968 debut and with English lyrics on their 1971 album Jardim Eletrico. Simply wonderful.
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