That Marisa Monte possesses one of the most seductive, entrancing voices on the planet was never in doubt for the thousands of cariocas and Brazil-minded New Yorkers that swarmed into the Beacon Theater Saturday night. The only suspense involved what new wrinkle Monte, an opera-trained pop samba fusionist who dabbles in Downtown, would unveil in her biannual pilgrimage to the North. When she strode onstage singing the casually bilingual "Amor I Love You" amid the flashy purple-blue graphics and streaming-text motifs projected onto Ernesto Neto's transparent-fabric installation, we suspected a Marisa-as-performance-artist mode. In her jet-black fright wig and a multilayered pseudo-Gaultier outfit, she was clearly toying with us again. Then Monte tossed off her wig and picked up a guitar, announcing the birth of her new guise as rock goddess. The double-barreled samba-drum attack that anchored A Great Noise's "Arrepio" didn't obscure the metal-y wailing of Davi Moraes and, yes, Marisa, on electric guitar. No doubt the tunes from her psychedelia-tinged new album, Memories, Chronicles and Declarations of Love, required a departure from previous poses, but here she was, looking like Chrissie Hynde with a case of the bell-bottom blues.
Despite appearances, there was still samba, there was still bossa nova, there was still the nostalgic lilt of the ukulele-like cavaquinho that embellished Paulino da Viola's "Para Ver as Meninas." And Monte's riveting, nuanced delivery created a kind of "My Funny Valentine" catharsis on "Gotas de Luar." But these declarations of love for old flames, old friends, and the old country weren't tying Monte downthey were setting her free even as she lived and breathed them, her swimming hand gestures illustrating how she uses her body as a vocal instrument. When she strapped on the guitar again, she rocked out on "Não Vá Embora," amplifying Memories' austere, minimalist sound. Or she just grooved in the tropical soul manner of "Eu Sei," her early-'90s tune that recalls Brazilian funk pioneer Ed Motta, as well as her producer Arto Lindsay's Ambitious Lovers. In the encore, the obligatory Arto appearance brought everything full circlethe stand-and-boogie spirit of the carnival samba "Leander de Sereias" came to a sudden halt, to allow for a typically discordant Lindsay skronk solo. Then the drums returned, and Monte sublimely assured us that although Manhattan loomed outside, for the moment we were living in the biggest city of South America. Ed Morales
Five ingredients for a seedy show:
1. Book it at Wetlands. Purporting to have "New York's most eclectic live music," it's also capable of drawing New York's most eclectic audience. Sampling: Jheri-curled African American man in a purple sharkskin suit sidles up to long-haired hippie kid, shakes his hand, and says, "That black girl wanted to give you pussy," while not three feet away, an apparent Hasid (with peyos) drinks a Heineken and sings along with the evening's entertainment. Nascent subculture in action? A setup to a joke? Your guess . . .
2. Put sign over bar: "The Champion of Beers. Pabst Blue Ribbon $2.50."
3. Start the second set at 2 a.m.
4. To quote an early audience request: "Turn on the fuckin' air conditioner."
5. Feature a performer who has done graduate work. Make sure he announces it. "I have a Ph.D.," said Rudy Ray Moore at his show last Saturday. "A pretty hard dick."
Moore, going by the alias Dolemite, starred in some of the baddest blaxploitation films and recorded some of the '70s' bawdiest party records. He continued a tradition of black blue comedy that stretches back in history from Eddie Murphy to Richard Pryor to Redd Foxx to the Af-Am tradition called the dozens, a form of verbal jousting more widely known as "mama snaps." While Moore's comedy never aspired to the coke-fueled pathos of Pryor or the dizzying linguistic gymnastics of Foxx, he could rhyme like the rappers who have cited him as an icon. He also envisioned a range of proctological and gynecological practices that would put the fear of God into the most comprehensive of medical insurers. Butt?
But Moore came to Wetlands on September 23 supporting Hully Gully Fever, a recent release unearthing vintage '50s and '60s recordings from his unheralded first career as an r&b singer. It's a bit cloudy now (see #2), but his backing band brought to mind the sex freaks in Moore's storiessemi-competent and very large. Eight pieces? Sixteen pieces? Confusion reigned because, while there were eight or so instruments, at times the group was bolstered by an all-male quartet singing castrati-pitched harmonies, three women who swayed, and a guy named Jimmy Lynch who . . . well, he wore a cheetah-print suit and encouraged the audience to peruse Moore's merchandise table crowded with six-tape Rudy Ray collections, autographed 8x10s, and the "Godfather of Rapp" backscratcher. ("I got the cheapest shit over there," Lynch added. "Buy my shit too.")
With neither rhyme nor reason, the set segued between Moore's "G-rated" songs like "Angels on Earth," which he dedicated to his backup swayers ("the kind of girls I dream about, the seedy girls I wake up with") and his raunchy X-rated material. Between the dizzying switch-ups, the freaky-deaky crowd, the sense of financial desperation, and the swayers, the evening had all the ingredients of my favorite Foxx joke: "What's the difference between a pickpocket and a peeping tom? A pickpocket snatches watches." Alec Hanley Bemis
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