Nineteen Concerts You Should See This Fall in NYC

Venues in bars. Venues in record stores (Nels Cline Singers at Rough Trade, 64 North 9th Street, Brooklyn, November 10). Venues in yoga studios. Venues with impenetrable DIY video games and murals on the walls and cheap beer. Venues with regular video games and a pool table and cheap beer. Venues with sculpture studios, bedrooms, a used record store, and a barbershop. Venues that look like a landing bay from the Death Star. Venues with brunch. Venues in bowling alleys with fried chicken (Bombino at Brooklyn Bowl, 61 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, September 7). Venues at radio stations.

See also: The 2014 Fall (Arts) Issue: An Index

Venues with balconies (Freeman at Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, October 4). Venues with ads in the Village Voice. Venues with Twitter feeds whose schedules will never end up on microfilm for future researchers. Venues in wineries. Venues at Lincoln Center. Venues at Jazz at Lincoln Center (Bill Frisell at Appel Room, Broadway at 60th Street, September 19–20).

Venues with long-running and always-gripping amateur nights (Amateur Night at the Apollo, 253 West 125th Street, all fall, check Venues with hats that get passed. Venues with grants. Venues built atop older venues (Meredith Monk Birthday Celebration at Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, November 20).

Venues with no fixed address. Venues with no history. Venues where Bob Dylan played. Venues where Thelonious Monk played. Venues in former RCA studios where Frank Sinatra recorded (Ty Segall at Webster Hall, 125 East 11th Street, September 17). Venues where Pete Seeger led singalongs while blacklisted. Venues where dozens of humans whose names you will never know still play every night. Venues with pre-work sober raves. Venues across the street from looming condos (Jad Fair and Danielson at Glasslands, 289 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, September 12).

Venues that are also basketball courts and owned by real estate management firms from Cleveland and investment groups founded by Russian billionaires (The Black Keys at Barclays Center, 620 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, September 23–24). Venues with church pews and attached music stores filled with ancient banjos and old-timers (and new-timers) with stories (Jim Kweskin at Jalopy Theatre, 315 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, September 4). Venues that used to be lawless and filled with boozing and weed-smoking and seat-hopping but that got remodeled and are a little more lame and security-obsessed now.

Venues that aren’t open yet (longtime promoter Todd Patrick’s revamping of the beloved Market Hotel, 1142 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn). Venues and associated musicians that remain cool year after year and seem a fixed part of the city’s musical landscape (John Zorn Improv Night at the Stone, Avenue C and 2nd Street, November 14). Venues that could, at any second, be closed by the New York Police Department’s Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots program, established as a result of the 1990 Happy Land fire but sometimes wielded in mysterious ways. Venues that might be turned into upscale Scandinavian furniture stores. Venues you could possibly have meaningful experiences at. So many venues.

Sir Richard Bishop, Tashi Dorji
September 6

A double bill of two modern guitar masters, forging singular voices that occupy states between beauty and challenge. A product of the tradition-repurposing Sun City Girls, Richard Bishop’s solo guitar work, prone to mystic scales and reverberating star splatter whether on acoustic or electric, builds on an unimpeachable bed of Django Reinhardt–inspired counterpoints. Dorji, whose improvised acoustic structures dance from atonal flutters to patient revelation, is a young gun with only a few cassettes and one proper debut to his discography, but no less potent. Issue Project Room, 22 Boerum Place, Brooklyn,

September 7

Making the jump from the enthused esoterica of the independent ethnographic label Sublime Frequencies to the vaunted Nonesuch Records in 2013, Tuareg guitarist Omara “Bombino” Moctar brings political jams from Agadez to the world stage. But it’s the sweet harmonies, note-bending choruses, cascading guitar figures, laidback swing, and rich rhythmic layers that earn Bombino and crew distinction as excellent contemporary pop, no matter their continent or tumultuous region of origin. Brooklyn Bowl, 61 Wythe Avenue,

Caetano Veloso
September 25-26

A leader of Brazilian tropicalismo in the late ’60s, Caetano Veloso remains every bit the forward-pushing songwriter, witty thinker, and remarkable stage presence at 72 that he was almost a half-century ago. Touring behind the 2012 Abraçaço, Veloso’s recent work has found him recording with a stripped-down rock trio and, even more enchantingly, sometimes performing songs totally solo with his tender, unmistakable knowingness. With a loyal Brazilian fan base in New York, Veloso shows are rare and exquisite affairs, reverential but mostly safe from nostalgia. Brooklyn Academy of Music, 321 Ashland Place,

October 4

A refugee from alt-rock weirdos Ween, Aaron Freeman launches his solo career with a new band named after himself, new album, and new alias. Following a public falling-out with Ween and an ill-received (but achingly weird) album of Rod McKuen covers, 2012’s Marvelous Clouds, Freeman’s debut returns to the familiar funny voices, playful arrangements, and rock reference points of his old band, presented live by a hot new combo unafraid to dig deep into the catalog of favorites Freeman penned when his fans knew him as Gene Ween. Bowery Ballroom, 7 Delancey Street,

October 4

If any group of music-loving barbarians can bring the mojo back to the depressing, awful, lifeless, unfun remodeling and crammed-ass seats of the new suck-ass Madison Square Garden, it’s revered hippie producer Bassnectar and his eager-to-throw-down EDM following. Bass Center VIII will feature the Burning Man DJ and others, alongside light shows, multimedia installations, probably a bunch of drugs, and (one hopes, if they’re worth their molly) an audience that will ecstatically ignore the ushers and dance where they want to dance. Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza,

Allman Brothers Band
October 21-22, 24-25, 27-28

The Allman Brothers haven’t been such since 1971, of course, when brother Duane perished in a motorcycle crash, or maybe it was 1972 when Berry Oakley did the same. And the bro-dom was definitely over by 2000, when the remaining members fired Dickey Betts, the third of the group’s original visionaries. But in October, the band known as the Allmans will play their farewell shows at the Beacon Theatre, their longtime Manhattan home. Gregg’s attendance record has been spotty lately, the drummers a bit sluggish, and some of the vocalists a bit session-y, but the very right-on reason to see the Allmans in the 21st century remains the brilliant young slide guitarist Derek Trucks, and the hope they’ll have the good sense to invite Betts back. Beacon Theatre, 2124 Broadway,

Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films
November 6-8

Andy Warhol’s 15 decades of fame continue as a quintet of off-screen underground A-listers—Television’s Tom Verlaine, Suicide’s Martin Rev, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, the Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger, and Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham—present their solo scores for 15 newly restored Warhol films from the ’60s. The on-screen underground A-listers featured in Warhol’s silent productions include (but aren’t limited to) Edie Sedgwick, Marcel Duchamp, Donovan, and Warhol himself. Brooklyn Academy of Music, 321 Ashland Place,

Nels Cline Singers
November 10

Once the Wilco machine fires up again and guitarist Nels Cline returns to duty matching fractured squiggle arcs to Jeff Tweedy’s always aching, breaking heart, Cline’s long-running instrumentally jamming Singers will likely once again go mum. Balancing Cline’s soaring lyricism with muscular and left-turning propulsion by Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, the Singers (playing two sets in the shipping container haven of the Rough Trade shop) stalk the sublime by one of the more traditional and endangered routes available: nimble and brilliant eggheaded improvisation. Rough Trade, 64 North 9th Street, Brooklyn,


Jherek Bischoff

The Seattle composer-bassist is one of the more promising uncategorizeables operating in the slipstream of contemporary music. Bischoff knocked one out of the park earlier this year with Composed, an album of charmingly akimbo arrangements sung by David Byrne, Caetano Veloso, and others. These shows include a half-hour of new music created at the behest of Lincoln Center and performed by Bischoff, the yMusic ensemble, and Deerhoof percussionist Greg Saunier.

Thu., Dec. 20, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m., 2012


Caetano Veloso

The opening night of a rare six-show American tour from the Brazilian tropicalismo legend Caetano Veloso is a very good reason to weather Terminal 5’s charming, loading-dock-on-the-Death-Star vibe. Veloso, 67, comes with the young trio that has accompanied him on his last two albums, including the new Zii & Zie, his 41st, released in March. Draping samba beats with shimmering reverb and occasional Tortoise-like guitar minimalism is a becoming sound for Veloso, whose recent albums have been equally marked by sometimes restless movement and his ability to sound timeless no matter who he’s playing with.

Thu., April 8, 8 p.m., 2010


Worry About the Government

When Britain’s hep world-music emporium Soul Jazz last investigated Brazil in 2006, the cover of their Tropicália set depicted cops wielding batons. And for good reason, as that ’60s art-film-theater-poetry-music movement—beautiful while it briefly bloomed between the Summer of Love and May of ’68—soon found itself crushed under the military dictatorship’s boot. The police locked up singers Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in an undisclosed secret prison, then deported them to London. Who wouldn’t distance themselves from tropicália after that?

But just as the notion of “amor” was subterfuge to the empire of “Roma,” a bronzed couple nuzzle on the cover of Brazil 70. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the set opens with “Amor,” by clear Kiss precedents Secos e Molhados, rocking feather boas and silver-faced androgyny. Throughout, the compilation depicts just how MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) navigated the void left by tropicália and the omniscience of the government’s stringent board of censors. The exchange was a tricky one. This strain of pop, evergreen and agog, was rendered mostly by long-haired, free-loving desbundos (dropouts) at the periphery of society. Popular among Brazilian youth, the music insinuated freedoms that neither the artists nor their audience quite possessed. Trickier still was that the military dictatorship twisted MPB to its own nefarious ends (a similar fate befell Pelé and the Brazil ’70 fútbol team), making it serve as a cultural export showing that all was just peachy down south.

Drawing from such a fertile musical culture for the compilation, Soul Jazz would be hard-pressed to muck it up (though they have in the past with their lackluster U.K., NYC, and Brazilian punk comps). While it’s tough to call “essential” any overview of MPB that wholly excludes Milton Nascimento’s indelible Clube de Esquina, this breezy, exhilarating, succinct set is damned close to perfect. The old guard of tropicália (Gal Costa, Rita Lee, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Tom Zé) all make appearances, eschewing the psychedelic-era Beatles influence that coursed through that music movement, and instead amalgamating funk, hard rock, and hand-drum-heavy Brazilian folk. The real surprises, though, are heretofore unknown (to me, at least) acts like Ednardo e o Pessoal do Ceara, Raul Seixas, and Jards Macale. And how better to be introduced to the pleasures of Novos Baianos? This collective jammed indigenous samba, frevo, choro, and prog-rock while simultaneously maintaining a communal farming co-op and their own fútbol team, making North American “collectives” seem rather pale in comparison.


Brazilian Crooner Ain’t Suitable for Framing Just Yet

“Brazil’s Dylan” is the hack’s tag for Caetano Veloso. Sure, he was the voice of his generation and weathered the attendant rhetorical junk, but while Dylan played at myth, Caetano became the golden boy incarnate for his country’s most influential avant-garde movement, Tropicália. Dylan never held a gun to his own head on television and didn’t go to jail for his art. Revolutionaries, though, are easier to love when pried from history and cramped onto postcards. With massive retrospectives of ’60s Brazilian art at the Bronx Museum and London’s Barbican in 2006, you might think that Caetano was dormant or, for story’s sake, dead.

It doesn’t help that he’s turned into someone the gentrified media pats on the back for his dips into starchy, pan-ethnic art (sample heartache from 2004’s A Foreign Sound: full-orchestra transpositions of no-wave guitar parts, oof). ‘s triumph, however, is its simplicity—12 tracks of plaintive, nervy drums-–bass-–guitar rock provided by friends of Caetano’s son, Moreno, who produces. Radical youthfulness might be the influence of his collaborators or his recent breakup; leanness and economy might be the new obstructions a guy needs when he’s on his 40th album. Either way, the brightest, weirdest spots—lags are around but ultimately forgivable—are thrilling. When Caetano crawls up the melody to “Não Me Arrependo,” the ache in his voice defies—1967? That was 40 years ago.


Fusion Troupe From Brazil Takes Brooklyn by Storm

Grupo Corpo’s women move with uncommon suppleness and don’t-give-a-damn sass; the men radiate a rootedness that inspires feelings of security. Viewers gasp, and other choreographers—from ballet to Broadway—must be hotly envious of Rodrigo Pederneiras for his gifted, glamorous Brazilian crew. At BAM, in the ballroom-inspired Lecuona—set to old-time romantic songs by Cuba’s Ernesto Lecuona—one couple after another displayed florid, tango-ish duets, their bodies molded together or executing impossibly melty or peppery maneuvers. I grumble at the sight of women roughly manipulated by men as if they were inflatable, posable sex dolls, but get drawn in again by the dancers’ unassailable technical acuity. (Besides, one of these ladies got her own back, tossing her mate’s head from hand to hand.) Pederneiras’s visually striking Onqotô, accompanied by Caetano Veloso and JoséMiguel Wisnik, represented both modes of this super grupo—dreamy and razor sharp.


Binary Stars

At 1 p.m. on April 16, over 2,000 New York public high school kids had an experience parallel to David Byrne’s upon his initial exposure to Brazilian music. They came to hear Caetano Veloso and two contemporary Afro-Brazilian bands at Carnegie Hall, culminating a six-month enrichment program sponsored by the Weill Institute which taught the history, politics, and culture of Brazil through its pop music. Fact is, without the sustained attention Byrne and other “first-world” pop stars began giving nonwhite and non-Western musics in the early ’80s, that cross-cultural encounter might never have happened. The next night, when Byrne and Veloso performed together to demonstrate the many fruits of their 15-year friendship, the sold-out crowd glimpsed a kind of commercial parity among international pop musics that coming generations will hopefully take for granted.

Side by side, trading leads on “(Nothing but) Flowers,” the quirky Brazilian and the quirky American mirrored one another as if they’d been separated at birth. By this point, they’d already moved through most of their respective solo sets using one sideman each (Veloso’s cellist and Byrne’s percussionist) to accompany voice and acoustic guitar; Veloso’s renditions of “Não Enche” (“Don’t Piss Me Off”) and “Coraçao Vagabundo” had given way to a mini-suite of bittersweet odes to New York. A jaunty “(I’ll Take) Manhattan” flowed into “Manhatã,” whose ominous tom-tom pattern introduced the first duet of the night—Byrne’s similarly allegorical “The Revolution.” Later they traded leads in Portuguese during “Um Canto de Afoxé Para o Bloco de Ilê,” but predictably enough Byrne’s solo versions of “And She Was,” “Life During Wartime,” and “Heaven” (to which Veloso added soft, ethereal harmonies) got bigger reactions. This particular double bill didn’t allow either man to do justice to his brand-new Nonesuch album, although Caetano managed to fit in his Talking Heads and Rodgers & Hart covers despite the burden of audience expectations, and Byrne did his post-post-feminist anthem “She Only Sleeps.”

Both David Byrne’s Grown Backwards and Caetano Veloso’s A Foreign Sound are marvelously sophisticated, extremely political albums that approach form and content with the same stylistic rigor but almost opposing emphasis. It’s not just that Veloso chooses to interpret a broad selection of American pop standards while all but three of the tracks on Byrne’s record are his own contemporary compositions. Veloso’s enthusiastic nostalgia for show tunes and urbane ditties reflecting the hybridized sensibility of the nation’s 20th century reminds America of her whip-smart youth. Ultimately all his best intentions are summed up by the allusions to memory and redemption in “Come as You Are” and “Something Good.” Conversely, the two songs most responsible for the sound and structure of Grown Backwards are Italian and French opera pieces by Verdi and Bizet that re-program how we hear vocals and strings throughout the entire album. Presumably, with these pristine artifacts from a pre-atomic era, Byrne hopes to press some sort of reset button on the human psyche.

Although both men adore the sensuality of syncopation, Veloso treats rhythm as a defining category rather than a playful enhancement. The street percussion he adds to “The Carioca” grants Flying Down to Rio‘s Hollywood production number authentic Afro-Brazilian roots; he makes “Cry Me a River” a bossa nova, and gives Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” a samba-reggae backbeat. Moreover, Veloso remains the truer romantic, projecting less alienation and more passion in love songs. Byrne still distances himself from his protagonists, burlesquing their angst rather than claiming it as his own. This is less true of woman-on-top scenarios like “She Only Sleeps,” but the nascent fascist of “Empire,” the illegal immigrant of “Glass, Concrete, Stone,” and the frustrated alpha male of “Civilization” are sung as though observed rather than embodied. What he loses in intimacy by this strategy, he gains in ironic punch, his perennial strong suit when it comes to conveying mood and meaning. But with pop motifs as seductively motile as the Brazilian variety, he’ll always get more bang for his creative buck by opting for tropical heat over Yankee cool.



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


Essence of Tropicália

I was not my first choice for this piece. I was hoping a Portuguese speaker or, even better, someone who actually witnessed Tropicália’s birth would step up to wave the flag for the Gilberto Gil reissues. But these CDs have been sitting in the racks for months and nobody’s dancing in the streets, so you’re stuck with a fan who means to convince you that they’re not just this year’s nice old sounds. Their story goes something like this.

In 1967, Gilberto Gil and his fellow freedom fighters (Tom Zé, Caetano Veloso, and Gal Costa, among others) launched the Tropicália movement by hugging the music of the world. Caetano Veloso described the time in a mid-1990s interview: “We listened to Jimi Hendrix and were fascinated by his creativity; we heard James Brown and loved his energy; we heard the Beatles with their happiness and lightness and we were happy that all this existed.” They caused a riot at São Paulo’s televised 1968 International Music Festival while wearing plastic clothes and silenced hometown xenophobes by making pop records that sounded all the more Brazilian for their admixture and theft. They made some delicious pop music, oh golly. See the excellent Tropicália Essentials (Hip-O), which shares half its tracks with the collective’s less varied but equally excellent self-compiled 1968 manifesto Tropicália ou Panis et Circensis, for supporting documents of the time.

Tropicália’s recent resurgence has been bolstered by the ageless Veloso’s theater shows (documented on his new, shiny, and very Broadway Prenda Minha [Verve]) and hipsters discovering reissues of Os Mutantes, who leaned heavily on Gil and Veloso for their first and best album. The current trickle-down versions being attributed to folks like Beck and Cibo Matto are more misfiled bossa nova than new-school Tropicália. First time around, Tropicália was a hairy, gorgeous mess, and nobody embodied the mess more than Gil, the huggiest of them all. He is as big today as he was then on ’60s-associated attributes like fellow feeling, community concern, and “Let’s jam!” enthusiasm. Unlike Caetano, though, Gil hasn’t made many records I’ve wanted to hear since he traded in John Lennon for Bob Marley (though Grammy voters obviously dig his world reggae inna drum clinic style), so I’m not surprised other folks haven’t been digging in his crates.

This is sad for all involved. Even when his records haven’t served them, Gil’s songs are vigorous things, stretched between the athletic chug of forró and the sexy suspension of samba but never snapping. His quick-stepping rhythms and long-legged melodies vault right over “Ipanema” stereotypes. And Gil is easily the most rocking of the Tropicálistas: His solo acoustic shows sweat, hard. Witnesses from Rio’s 1999 carnival say Gilberto Gil doing off-the-rack reggae was still a pretty electrifying Gil. His sins of overstatement (see Quanta Live) lead him far enough away from the sangfroid and muted syncopation of bossa that you understand why indie rockers, already chary of “cheesy” emotions and expressions, have been more interested in quiet buddies like Caetano and founding stoner João Gilberto, whose new João Voz e Violão (Verve) is beautiful and mumbly enough to pull the bowlies. Bossa’s restraint is sorely missed in Gil’s music now, but you can’t blame him for getting the balance wrong. His early records worked hard to dispel the notion that Brazilian pop is a long, cool drink of water with lyrics in a funny language. Gilberto Gil’s ferocious syncretism has little use for understatement. He whoops and hollers his way through the harmonies and rhythms jammed into the corners. Gil is Tropicália’s rude essence.

Last June, Polygram Brazil released Ensaio Geral, a big, shiny, expensive box ($170 on right now) that collected the six albums Gil released commercially for Polygram between 1966 and 1977 as well as six CDs of outtakes and live material. These titles have now been released individually and are available for around $13.99 each (try or Five of the six solo records of the box—Louvação, three albums titled Gilberto Gil, and Expresso 2222—are pretty much sure bets for anyone who likes a tune and a beat. Though Gil had been writing and recording since 1965 (“Louvação” had already been a hit for Elis Regina by the time Gil’s version was released), 1967’s Louvação is Gil’s first album under his own name. Gil makes bossa celebratory, giving it his all but never giving the crowd what they already know. He sounds feather-light on “Beira-Mar” but on “Louvação” and “Roda” he establishes career tropes: fast pacing, fluid fingerpicking, and ambitious melodies. He starts coloring outside the lines, slashing at his acoustic like he’s on loan from the Feelies, sending his voice way past the written tune with ecstatic slides. Gil wants to take the music higher, and you can tell bossa won’t hold him long.

After temporarily relocating from Salvador, the capital of Bahia, to São Paulo, Gil & Co. met Os Mutantes and composer Rogerio Duprat. The collective often worked, implausibly, on São Paulo TV, appearing in national song contests and hosting variety shows, even when in political disfavor. Arranged and “directed” by Duprat and played, in part, by Os Mutantes, Gil’s 1968 self-titled album is one of the collective’s finest moments. A grainy color Xerox of English go-go rock and Bahia folk, it sounds like 1968 AM radio played over soccer stadium speakers. The opener, “Frevo Rasgado,” is a lost game-show theme that prepares no one for “Coragem Pra Suportar,” a Pavement tune 20 years early, full of scraping sounds, goofy flutes, and the “Taxman” bassline. (“Eleanor Rigby” and “Hang On Sloopy” pop up later.) In “Marginália II,” boozy horns and strings battle it out at simultaneous weddings while Gil sends his voice up like a kite in a tornado, untroubled by the hubbub.

Hardliner General Costa e Silva put an end to all this fun with the Fifth Institutional Act of December 13, 1968, which sent Gil and Veloso to jail. After their release, they were allowed to work under house arrest in early 1969 for approximately four months, each recording an album’s worth of songs with acoustic guitar and voice and sending the tapes off to Duprat, who fleshed them out (to put it mildly). Soon both hit the racks with yet another self-titled album. For a guy under the government’s thumb, Gil sounds unusually perky. Drummer Wilson Das Neves does an elastic take on Clyde Stubblefield while Lanny Gordin, a major presence on these albums, gets a lot of mileage out of one electric guitar. Hipsters will gravitate toward his free jazz codas, stereo field abuse, and other “nonmusical” signals, but the noisy bits aren’t what made these albums contemporary then and they’re not what make them current now. Without the band kicking and Duprat channeling as much pop as Stockhausen, they wouldn’t have equaled the English pop the Tropicálistas loved.

In 1972, after two years’ exile in London, Gil returned to Brazil and recorded Expresso 2222, a significant break point that coincides with Gil’s participation in the Afro-Brazilian consciousness movement, which continued through the ’70s. Gone are the soigné turns of bossa and major-to-minor pop moves; in their place is a supple Afro-Brazilian funk that Gil would favor for the next 20 years. “O Canto da Ema” is Gil bouillon, a fast-moving, long melody cycling over a Fela ostinato guitar while drummer Tutty Moreno, as major a discovery as Gordin, stutters perfectly. The album closes with two solo voice-and-guitar songs, “O Sonho Acabou” and “Oriente.” Gil’s more-is-more playing and singing style provides enough rhythm and sound to cover the lack of bass and drums. If anyone can show up with a guitar and a microphone and make a big sound, it’s Gil.

Which is what he does on O Viramundo, a live album recorded mostly in 1972. Expresso 2222 done live, it’s a keeper from the opening duet with Veloso, “Cada Macaco no Seu Galho,” to the juicy 16-minute band workout “Brand New Dream.” The band is on a par with James Brown’s best, especially on the multilayered “O Bom Jogador.” Moreno is a treat no matter how many times he channels Lenny White, and Gordin spits fire. Cidade do Salvador, a previously unreleased 1974 double album, is a calmer, more fusion-prone elaboration on Expresso 2222. The rhythms are still the people’s; Fela is very much present on the delicious “Umeboshi,” and the drums get pleasantly papery on “Essa É Pra Tocar no Rádio.” The lead track, “Meio de Campo,” and “Eu Só Quero um Xodô” made a perfect 45 when they were released together in 1974.

Even Gil’s failures can set you free: a little great artist shtick, a jam gone over the cliff, too much hope for his fellow citizen. Couldn’t the last album you bought use a little of that kind of reach? In the midst of all the humming, smiling Powerbooks, Gil’s generous, forceful abraço spills over the edges, embarrasses and suffocates you a bit. Hug it back and live large for once.


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