For those who aren’t familiar with Brazilian music, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil are like the Lennon and McCartney of the South American country. The two haven’t done a lot of formal collaboration since they burst on the scene in the 1960s, pioneering the Brazilian bossa nova pop sound of the 1960s called Tropicalia. But they are close friends and have played together since. They have also been political leaders, even to the point of being exiled in the 60s for their actions to counter Brazil’s then-dictatorship.
After 50 years of playing, they launched a rare world tour together which is taking them to only four U.S. cities. One of those was Oakland last night, at the Paramount Theater in the burgeoning Uptown district, put on by SF Jazz.
A bit about their music: while their pop stuff from the 1960s featured traditional rock ensembles, their music is mostly acoustic-guitar based, with a rhythmic foundation in bossa nova and samba that underlies everything they do. The musical elements are varied but include much 60s pop, blues, and jazz influence.
To me, Brazilian music is among the best in the world. The rhythms are sophisticated and toe-tapping, often featuring fantastic drumming and unusual meters. And the music takes the best of the jazz world, with complicated and intriguing chord progressions coupled with beautiful, catchy melodies.
And while I can’t understand most of the Portuguese words, I can think of no language more beautiful when sung. What I do understand based on my Spanish skills leads me to believe they have a lot of thoughtful and insightful lyrics as well. So all told, it’s the complete package of great music.
Veloso and Gil are now recognized as international giants of this music, so the crowd understandably went nuts went the curtain went up. The show opened with just the two of them playing acoustic guitar and singing in unison on many of the tunes on their just-released double live album recorded on this tour.
Caetano is the more cerebral of the two, and the first half of their performance transitioned to feature many of his tunes, including Tropicalia and Desde Que O Samba É Samba. Then it was Gilberto’s turn, playing many of my favorites from his class acoustic live album Acustico. Highlights included the upbeat “Expresso 2222,” “Esotérico,” and “Drão.”
The two friends definitely seemed to be enjoying themselves, with each of them even taking turns doing little jigs out front while the other played. The heavily Brazilian crowd ate it up, dancing in the aisles by the end and clapping them on to two encores. They featured a pretty version of Veloso’s Leazinho and an upbeat Filhos De Gandhi from Gil’s 1970s collaboration with songwriter/performer Jorge Ben.
The duo then closed with a poignant cover of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” With a backdrop of flags from Brazil’s states and a crowd banner protesting the political troubles going on right now in Brazil, it was hard not to think of the tune as a reassuring message to their home country (“everything little thing is going to be all right”), from two musical and political veterans who have the experience to know.