Tropical Truth


Over 30 years have passed since Tropicália rocked Brazil, and now, on the Beacon Theater stage, it was finally time for one of the movement’s founders. “I’m selling records like I never did before,” Caetano Veloso said with impish embarrassment between songs of his lavish two-hour performance last Sunday. Alternately accompanied by a 10-piece band and just his guitar, Veloso covered everything from his bossa nova roots to his mythic attempts to redefine Brazilian pop. Classics like “Terra” and several songs from his new album, Livro, exploded with added drama because of the way cellist­musical director Jacques Morelenbaum’s chamberlike horn and string arrangements were juxtaposed with the spiritual energy of the street-dancing Bahian percussion quartet.

Veloso is that rare combination of incredible vocalist— his silky smooth tenor leaps operatically into high registers with shocking ease— and masterful poet. He reaches a peak on “Manhatã,” in which he reimagines the Statue of Liberty as an Algonquin goddess lighting the way to a hellishly beautiful Gotham, with Morelenbaum’s Gil Evans mood strings pushing her canoe downstream. Briefly switching from Portuguese to Spanish, he flirted with soprano range, holding his guitar aloft to symbolize a Puerto Rican peasant carrying his goods to market in “Lamento Borincano.” The mostly Brazilian crowd sprang to its feet for the carnaval samba of “Na Baixa do Sapateiro,” and “How Beautiful Could a Being Be.” But as much as he recognizes the power of pop, Veloso seems to want to make his points as a philosopher-critic. Citing passages from his new book, Verdade Tropical, he made the connection between Cage and Stockhausen’s experimentalism and MTV trash culture, then invoked Tom Zé in the cubist cacophony of “Doideca.” For the encore, he invited skronk collaborator Arto Lindsay onstage, relishing the last lines of “Estrangiero,” taken from old Dylan liner notes: “Some may like a soft Brazilian singer/but I’ve given up all attempts at perfection.” — Ed Morales

Eire Apparent

Despite the absence of Sinéad, Van, and the Chieftains, the Guinness Fleadh suffered no loss of Irish cred this year. Of all the summer festivals, only the Fleadh could boast thousands of pasty people slathering on sunblock, downing the dark stuff, and staggering from stage to stage in search of good craic (that’s fun, to the uninitiated). With thumping step dancers, traditional music sessions keepin’ it real, and over 30 bands on three stages, this year’s festival (on Randall’s Island, as usual) proved yet again that there’s more to the Irish renaissance than the Titanic score, Michael Flatley, and B*witched.

On two separate stages, closers Elvis Costello and Shane MacGowan illustrated the opposite ends of the Fleadh’s spectrum: entreating singer-songwriter and devil-may-care punk-popster. Costello unleashed a stream of favorites from his acoustic guitar to an attentive, appreciative audience, no doubt the same folks here earlier for Lucinda Williams. The delightfully unintelligible Shane MacGowan, with an audience sufficiently rowdy thanks to Black 47, sloshed along, stopped twice to, ahem, collect himself, and slurred, “God bless, and go home for Christ’s sake.”

The day was packed with surprising,
horizon-widening examples of Irish culture, including trad-tribal band Kíla, which incited a frenzy, banging out rhythmic patterns worthy of a rain dance. The Irish Village tent provided a shady respite for dramatic readings and theatrical performances inspired by Yeats. No Irish art forum would be complete without a jab at the Catholic Church, affectionately lampooned by Sr. Hip in a skit with gyrating altar boys. If that wasn’t enough Irish, vendors hawked silver claddagh rings and Celtic throws, and you could slap on temporary Guinness tattoos. As far as second-billed Hootie was concerned, the band’s connection seemed to lie merely in singer-songwriter earnestness and a fondness for golf. — Carrie Havranek

Mystery Man

A question lingered after Carlinhos Brown wrapped up his hyperactive extravaganza at the Beacon last Thursday: who exactly was that dude? Arriving onstage cloaked in a dark hooded coat, waving incense, and flanked by native Brazilian artifacts, he resembled George Clinton descending from the mothership, or Lee Perry running the voodoo down. Tossing off the outer garments, he transformed himself into a younger, bearded, dreadlock-flashing version of his namesake, James Brown. He vaulted, sprinted, and dallied briefly among the instruments onstage like Prince. And the horns, percussionists, and matched pair of grinding female dancers were straight outta the late Fela Kuti’s compound.

Brown is both inspired recombinator and attention-deficient maestro. He’s a percussion-loving Bahian used to rocking crowds with huge drum batteries, but he also has a fine ear for urban pop melodies. He straddles boundaries and scrambles musical identities; hence his eclectic new album, Omelet Man, whose title track he introduced by striking a plate with an egg beater. Neither an overwhelmingly great singer nor an instrumentalist of note, Brown got by on good vibes and a willingness to get busy on guitar (a borrowed Arto Lindsay squall), electric berimbau, and the numerous percussion instruments he slapped, hurled, rolled, or leaped onto.

It was easy to have a good time despite the unfriendly sound mix. Mixing up hard funk and samba-reggae with ballads and street music, Brown obscured the academic distinction between pomoculti fusion and old-fashioned musical variety. The set ground to a charming if surreal halt when the band members dropped everything to slow dance with one another. By the time singer (and Omelet Man producer) Marisa Monte arrived onstage for a pair of romantic duets, only one thing was certain: Brown was an enigma wrapped in the fabric of his undisputed starhood. — Richard Gehr