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Caetano Veloso @ Greek Theatre 04/15/10

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Caetano Veloso performing at the Greek Theatre | Photo by Randall Michelson

Caetano Veloso performing at the Greek Theatre | Photo by Randall Michelson
Nederlander Concerts kicked off the 2010 Los Angeles Greek Theatre season this past Thursday night and turned what could have been a chilly April evening into a joyous celebration of Tropicalia warmed by the music of Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso. With the cool, class and phrasing of an Andy Williams or Mel Torme, the visual lyricism of Pedro Almodovar (for whose films he has composed) and the politics of Zach De La Rocha, Veloso reached to touch every dimension of passion and love available to a master songwriter as if that was the easiest and most natural thing in the world to do. Judging by the respectful crowd seizing every opportunity to sing and dance with him—he was correct, and he succeeded.

In his 2002 memoir Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil, Veloso wrote about the man that became his mentor and whom he refers to as ‘my supreme master,’ composer Jao Gilberto. And no less a figure than this same brilliant Gilberto describes Veloso as having made a contribution to the music of Brazil that provided ‘an accompaniment of thought’ to the maestros own music. It was this sense of passion, not bound, but lifted by thought, that was readily apparent in the April evening as Veloso’s eloquence and phrasing both wakened and soothed, reminded then calmed; as his music, his words and their delivery spoke to the audience whether their own pre and post show conversations were in Portuguese, Spanish or English.

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No matter the dimension of love or life he was exploring Veloso on the stage was as relaxed as if the audience were guests at his home. Whether he was singing about the beauty of his beloved Brazil, his feelings of loss and loneliness for family during his government imposed exile to England or romantic love—he was a man at peace. This is where his genius was most revealed. In both his writing and his performing Veloso foregoes agitation (even if his intended artistic destination is some place within the listener he knows is usually occupied by outrage or anger) and uses the beauty of his music, the poetic imagery of his lyric and the warmth of his voice as instruments wielded with respect for the emotional and intellectual maturity and integrity of his audience. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t understand beat, melody, harmony and dissonance as well as any composer of popular music that ever put fingers to frets or keys, it is just to point out that an evening with Veloso is surrender to a master. And so every song this Thursday evening, no matter what strings it tugged, no matter what deep pools it stirred along it’s musical and emotional journey, seemed a gift from the artist to each member of the audience.


Drawing from a catalogue as far reaching as "Maria Bethania"—a song of subdued rage at being exiled from his country and his sister, whose name is also the song’s title— and classics such as "Sozinho," "Samba e Samba," "Lapa" and ‘first listen favorites’ from his wonderful new album Zii e Zie, transambas ("Perdeu," "Falso Leblon," "Base de Guantanemo"), Veloso rewarded the audiences admiration and enthusiasm with every selection he offered.

There was an unanticipated and definitely crowd pleasing moment when Veloso sat alone with his nylon string acoustic guitar and gave a Bossa Nova reading of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. And when that song maneuvered a beautiful chord laced path and somehow became Eleanor Rigby it made as perfect sense as if Michael Jackson and Lennon / McCartney has sat down to write them as companion pieces about existential loneliness together.

Veloso is indeed a master and Thursday evenings performance was one of beauty.

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Words by James Eliopulos
Photos by Randall Michelson