April 20, 2010
Better Than: A world cruise through an aural netherworld
It's virtually impossible to categorize the music of Caetano Veloso. World Beat is weak. Because though what he does is both global and rhythmic, the term doesn't even begin to describe its aural majesty. World Music is even weaker, for obvious reasons. Besides, do you think his fellow Brazilians use either term to describe his sound? I don't either. Hell, it isn't even strictly Brazilian, despite the fact that you can hear echoes of that country's choro, samba and bossa nova. And though Veloso's songs often falls under the rubric of Música Popular Brasileira (after all, they are all three of those things), MPB is also way too vague a pigeonhole. Yes, it is his own Tropicalismo. But by now it is also so very much more.
At the Fillmore Gleason last night before a packed house of worshipers, Veloso not only defied categories; he delivered us from the evil inherent in the same old song. And in so doing the man with the Midas voice opened our eyes and our ears and our minds to a cornucopia of sonic possibilities.
Veloso's cool, tres cool: self-effacing, casually elegant, keen, confident and insanely talented. And every single one of his attributes was apparent in everything he did. And all that he did was a marvel.
And at 67 years of age, Veloso is as spry and as playful as he's ever been, if not even more so. From the "transamba" that marks his latest recording to a ballad that had all the hallmarks of a troubadour's lament, he danced and pranced and cajoled across the stage as if it were his own personal funhouse. Even at a standstill, he twisted his limbs into some yogic contortions ala Bowie circa Heroes.
For the majority of the set Veloso was backed by Banda Cê, the same three players who collaborated with him on '06's Cê and last year's Latin Grammy-winning zii e zie. The band -- Pedro Sá on guitar, Ricardo Dias Gomes on bass and keyboards and Marcelo Callado on drums -- were relatively motionless throughout the set. But, with the exception of one happy accident by Sá, which he smiled away with Veloso, they didn't miss a single note or beat.
And these were no easy notes or beats to hit. Veloso is undoubtedly one of the most adventurous composers in music, period. His songs are oddly timed, melodically robust, and often bursting with a beautiful dissonance. And no amateurs need apply.
If I had to call Veloso's sound something, I'd call it "egghead pop," though that too wouldn't honor its soul or its spirit. How 'bout instead I say simply that it is Caetano Veloso. And for some two hours on a rainy Tuesday night, Miami was blessed to be in its presence.
Personal Bias: In my quick Q&A prior to the show, Veloso was mannered enough not to chastise me for asking about a book (Tropical Truth) I'd obviously not yet read. And I'll always respect a benevolent interviewee.
Random Detail: Veloso and his band were backed by a grounded hang-glider, which nevertheless gave the impression that he was ever about to lift off.
By the Way: Veloso's stripped-bare version of "Billie Jean" was perhaps the most heartfelt rendering of that song ever sang, and that includes MJ's original. (Though frankly it's really apples and oranges.)