Live Music: Caetano Veloso at the Greek Theatre

By Don Heckman

Caetano Veloso gave a masterful performance at the Greek Theatre last night.  No news there, actually, since his Los Angeles appearances have always been memorable.  Some have been small, relatively intimate, emphasizing the innate lyricism of his music.  Some have been bigger, samba-oriented events, drawing crowds of dancers into the aisles.  This time, he seemed determined to take a broader view.  Although he was backed by the rock-oriented sound of Banda Cê, the trio that has backed him on a pair of recent CDs (including last year’s Latin Grammy Award-winning Zii e Zie), the program stretched across the full range of his extraordinarily rich career.

At 67, Veloso still sizzled with youthful energy.  Wearing a cardigan and baggy pants, he was a study in motion, occasionally doing jumping jacks in rhythm with the music, sometimes striding the stage, playing his electric guitar with the charismatic gestures of rock god.  Behind him, Banda Ce was positioned in front of a full sized hang glider, and a screen at the rear was used for a colorful array of images – some picturesque views of Brazil, as well as film clips illustrating specific songs. At times, the lighting shifted into brilliant strobe flashes recalling some of the Rolling Stones concerts of the ‘70s.

The music, in other words, was framed in a powerful visual presentation, with Veloso as the star.  But, wise old entertainer that he is, he also added meaningful contrast.  In an intimate passage at the middle of the program, he simply sat center stage, playing an acoustic instrument, applying his remarkably sweet-toned voice to Carlos Gardel’s tango, “Volver,” and recalling his bossa nova roots with a lovely rendering of “Desde que o Samba é Samba.”  Then, in his characteristic avoidance of getting stuck in any single groove, he shifted into the edgy rhythms of “Tarado Ni Você.”

“Maria Bethania” harkened back to the late ‘60s and his temporary exile in Great Britain – an English language letter in the form of a song to his sister, singer Maria Bethania, asking if “things are getting better” in Brazil.  One or two songs touched upon his Tropicalia years, and he whimisically tossed in Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean.”  More contemporary material included an incisive protest song – “Base de Guantánamo” – illustrated on the video screen with spare, black and white images of Cuba.  And a closing number, the richly emotional, intensely declamatory  “Eu Sou Neguinha?” (“Am I a Dark Skinned Girl?”) was delivered with a dramatic combination of stark lighting and explosive music.

Other songs were also framed in audio settings layered with rock-style guitar sounds, feedback, distortion, as well as rhythms simmering with a gumbo of funk, samba and rock propulsion.  Veloso may be heading toward seventy, but his imagination is as youthful as ever.  As insistent now — as he was during the heady days of Tropicalia — that he will speak in a voice that accepts no limits, no boundaries, he again affirmed that he is one of the world’s great, creative musical forces.

Photos by Faith Frenz

7 thoughts on “Live Music: Caetano Veloso at the Greek Theatre

  1. I also had the pleasure of being there–have followed his music since I spent some time in Brasil as a young man. His show was different than what I expected(although never having seen him live, I didn’t know what to expect)..but the fact I could understand some of the lyrics made it all the more enchanting to me. That there were just 3 other musicians on stage was amazing…the sound and the musicality from Banda Cê was just amazing, each one of them an outstanding musician. Long live Caetano.

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  2. When I’ve attended other Brazilian concerts at the Greek (Gal Costa, Dori Caymmi, etc.) they were very pleasant but kind of stuck in their genre… sometimes stodgy. With Caetano’s current approach he can go in a lot of different directions and it all sounds fresh and exciting. His song-writing skills and arrangements are so creative that he can lock you into his hooks and then suddenly send the music into an unusual, almost dreamlike dimension without ever losing the character of the song. Amazing how he can make his complexities seem so effortless and simple. They’re not. There were moments when I was asking myself – “how did he just do that?” – as songs were turned totally inside out while the musical slight of hand was so unobtrusive.

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  3. An amazing, joyful & inspiring evening. It was a pilgrimage for me—drove down to L.A. from Northern Calif. so my daughter (at UCLA) & I could be there together. He showed how musically gifted he is, and it all seems so effortless and natural. Even down to the way he communicates with his hands and body movements. His band was great & they complemented Caetano and vice versa. Great sound mixing–nothing got lost. Just a beautiful show.

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  4. Great review (that shoulda been in the LA Times, damn it.)

    That Banda Ce is one tough outfit, and sounds to me like they’re steeped in the late 80’s early 90’s underground stuff. A lot of Sonic Youth and Seatle sounds (among a zillion others). Caetano has them absolutely wail sometimes, there were moments live (and on record) it sounds like he’s backed by Mudhoney (but a very tight Mudhoney). He’s the only guy I can think of from a previous generation who took the rock of that time and made it his own, without compromising it one dissonant iota.

    I loved every second of that show.

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    1. I’m with you all the way, Brick. Especially your comment about Caetano as “the only guy I can think of from a previous generation who took the rock of that time and made it his own.” Right on target. Couldn’t agree more.

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