Mongeese for Peace

After unknowingly helping to spread the “Shakira” computer virus this summer and getting taunted by colleagues as the singer’s “number one fan,” I kept my plans to check out Wednesday’s “Tour of the Mongoose” concert at Madison Square Garden secret . . . till now.

Emerging from a giant cobra and charming it into submission, the Colombian rock star kicked off a multimedia extravaganza loaded with videos, flames, and very loud ka-booms. Shakira‘s one simple message: “Love is lacking leaders, and leaders are lacking love.” Her own country ravaged by war, the singer pleaded for peace—video showed George Bush and Saddam Hussein playing chess, and she asked that we all hold hands as a dove flew across the screen.

A mix of Spanish and English hits pleased fans who remember Shakira with dark braids as well as those who only know her blond mane. Songs like “Si Te Vas,” and “Inevitable” showed off versatile vocals and skilled musicianship. While dipping into pop, Latin, and new wave, her love for classic rock came across in covers of “Dude Looks Like a Lady” and “Back in Black.” Laundry Service tracks included “Whatever, Whenever”—sans the horses—and the tango-inspired “Objection.”

It’s still hard to understand her English, but none of that matters when she moves. Whether jumping around barefoot as if no one is watching, or writhing and shaking with the knowing look of a good girl gone bad, she dances with the fluidity of her Mediterranean and Caribbean blood. When the lights went up, I came to a realization: I think I am her number one fan—just don’t tell anyone. —Grace Bastidas

Soy Loco por Ti, Caetano

Caetano Veloso at the Beacon, Friday. 8:10 p.m.: Pedro Almodóvar stands up to greet yet another well-wisher. 8:22 p.m.: Veloso enters wearing a black T-shirt, black jeans, and black Nikes. He looks like a thinner, happier Al Pacino. 8:23 p.m.: Caetano moves like Fred Astaire. No—he does not. His dance steps are tentative and, if you want to get technical, his voice lacks body sometimes. But he doesn’t think about it and neither does anyone else. He’s more like Astaire the singer: conversational, but liable to slip into deep beauty like it was there all along, inside the conversation itself.

8:40 p.m.: Four of the nine band members are killer Afro-Brazilian percussionists and the old songs are great (“O Leaoziñho” and “Two Naira Fifty Kobo,” for starters) but these arrangements are some polite shit. Why is the guy who invented tropicália and sings odes to rebel slave leaders settling for such a self-satisfied, non-dialectic sound? I blame longtime musical director Jacques Morelenbaum, who’s never met with a sharp edge he didn’t want to buff. If he solos on that damnable electric cello, I’m gonna hiss “Jacquezinho!” and throw my MetroCard at him. 8:52 p.m.: Caetano duets on “O Ultimo Romantico” with the Brazilians in the balcony. The sound is heartbreaking and diffuse, a little cloud that settles on the silvery celebrities below.

9:02 p.m.: Caetano sings “Stardust” and apologizes for not knowing more songs in English. I wish I had his problems. 9:17 p.m.: Lead percussionist Marcio Victor and his surdo are running shit upstage. His big, bodily ease counterbalances Caetano’s heady softshoe perfectly. They represent the masculine/feminine split of the show, of Brazil, of Caetano himself. 9:50 p.m.: Jacquezinho! (I hold on to the MetroCard.) 10:20 p.m.: Caetano gets the band into the right place and we all sing along to “Tropicália.” 1968 was a good year. 10:25 p.m.: If there’s a more easeful motherfucker in this world than Caetano Veloso, it is a motherfucker I do not know. 11:25 p.m.: It is very cold outside. Julian Schnabel enters the after-party wearing shorts. Susan Sontag is dressed appropriately, though. —Sasha Frere-Jones

The First Minute

The revolution was live Thursday night when Gil Scott-Heron‘s “Free at Last Tour” hit S.O.B.’s. The proto-rapper-pianist-bluesologist emerged to an ovation of heart-bursting goodwill. After reconnecting with his people, he sang the gentle “Your Daddy Loves You” with flutist-pianist Brian Jackson, his ace boon since college days. Scott-Heron’s careworn appearance and nimbus of virtually white curls attest to hard times, though he made little reference to his stay at Watertown Correctional Facility—”You haven’t been down till you’ve done Watertown”—and the audience eschewed prurience.

Folks came from as far away as Paris or as near as Philly and Brooklyn (a grizzled black biker in leathers and Liberation colors was much admired) to witness the return of the griot, hoping—especially now—to be rewarded with insight, mordant wit, and righteous anger. The mighty Amnesia Express revisited its still-urgent 30-year oeuvre: “95 South (All of the Places We’ve Been),” written for heroine Miss Fannie Lou Hamer and dedicated to Ralph Carter (of Good Times fame), who was present; “Lady Day and John Coltrane;” “Winter In America.”

On 1994’s Spirits, Brother Gil sings, “Ain’t no way overnight for you to turn your life around/And this ain’t the commentary of somebody who hasn’t fallen right back down.” The humble way he thanked the audience for giving him a reason to come back to the world suggested strength on his road to recovery. Although no longer the young turk of Small Talk at 125th & Lenox, he’s still achingly blue and brave in our stead—released just in time to slay our national dragons. He still has so many targets: “America! The international Jekyll and Hyde.” —Kandia Crazy Horse