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Arts and Entertainment

Os Mutantes @ Echoplex 8/28/09

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On a sweltering Friday night at the Echoplex, Sergio Dias led his band mates, Os Mutantes, on multiple musical excursions through rock & roll, samba, and bossa nova, with a bit of Kurt Weill thrown in for good measure. Delivering a rousing set that was exciting, fiery and continuously pleasing, Baptista demonstrated his guitar virtuosity with flashes of references to his early musical icons including George Harrison and The Ventures’ Noke Edwards while marking out his own sonic turf, getting tones of unbelievable beauty, both delicate and powerful, out of his Super Nova Kier.

That said, and it could be said about twelve more times, it wasn’t a "guitar slinger" show. Os Mutantes was, if anything, a tightly wound band that moved flawlessly, fully charged with the kind of sensuality and passion that an adverb like “flawlessly” might suggest is missing, through genres beats, keys and languages ( I caught English, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian... will somebody please translate the Russian for me?). More than once that was all within one song.

Playing to an audience that tilted towards the band's younger fans (or so it appeared when they would stop dancing long enough to get a look), Dias and his fellow players wove disparate musical threads into seemingly real musical entities that were propelled against each other creating the wildest musical collisions that made absolutely perfect musical sense. Though the current lineup of the band includes Dias as the only original member, the rest of his crew - vocalist/ percusssionists Bia Mendes and Fabio Recco, drummer Dinho Leme, bassist Vinícius Junqueira, and multi-instrumentalists Henrique Peters and Vitor Trida - are all first-rate players with an intuitive grasp of this music.

It would be wrong to get so enthralled with the musicianship of Dias and the rest of the band that one overlooked the mastery of the songwriting. Songs from the group’s first album in over three decades, Haih Or Amortecedor (Anti-), some of which were being played live for the first time, mixed seamlessly with the sixties material, and provided several of the night’s high points. “O Mensageiro” came on like the most classic of rock, chiming guitars and big choruses, while the gorgeous, shimmying samba “Anagrama”, with a light, breathy vocal from Mendes, felt like a cool hand to the forehead, much needed relief on a night this parching.

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As the band stepped up for its encore, they announced they were bringing an old friend up on stage, and immediately the crowd craned forward to see if it would be Beck, or Wayne Coyne, or David Byrne, or any of the celebrities that have endorsed the Mutantes brand. Instead, they brought out punk rock anit-hero Bill Bartel from White Flag, who apparently is the guy that played their records for all the famous people. Earlier he’d introduced them, hollering “This has been my favorite band since I was seven years old!” Up on stage, playing along to a rousing version of “Bat Macumba”, he looked like a seven year old again, possessed by utter and complete joy.

It’s incredible to think that Os Mutantes were once exiled from their own country for playing this music. But that grim factoid speaks to a particular spirit, audible in the records and visible in person, that refuses to stop going for it, that fails to recognize boundaries. It was quite a scene, a terrific crowd witnessing the re-appearance of a giant, turning in an exultant set of music played with fire and cunning.

Review by Randy Eliopolus, special to LAist. Bobzilla contributed to this review.

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