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Sergio Mendes, Morcheeba @ Hollywood Bowl 07/30/10

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Brazillian maestro Sergio Mendes has made the Hollywood Bowl something of a second home ever since his 1968 debut. On Friday night, midway through his set, he declared it “my favorite place in the world.” And the love is reciprocated almost annually; in the past five seasons alone, he’s been on three of them. It’s easy to see why the mutual love affair continues; Mendes’ breezy bossa nova sounds are the perfect soundtrack for a summer evening involving a bandshell, a picnic dinner, and a glass of wine.

Mendes’ shows shave taken on a familiar arc for the last decade. He’ll usually open with a mess of classic Brazil 66/77 songs, then drop a few tunes from his more recent albums, proceed to an instrumental segment, during which Bahian percussionist Bibi routinely leaves jaws on the ground with, I’m not kidding, a cowbell solo followed by a tambourine solo, then a few more new songs before going back to the oldies for the big finish. His band is always ridiculously tight and fluid, and radiates a relaxed intensity. His wife Graicinha Leporace leads the trio of gorgeous female singers who sing in eerily perfect unison throughout. And all of it flows like water.

His more recent visits, Friday’s included, have been punctuated by appearances from rapper H20, who’ll come out to spit rhymes over a few of the samba numbers early in the set, then coming out to do one front and center while the singers are changing backstage. The number written specifically for him, during which the band plays what sounds like a DJ cut-up of one of their old riffs, is truly impressive. And you have to give credit to a seventy year old bandleader and composer to organically embrace a new sound, and make it work. But he beings to overstay his welcome near the end of the evening, when we’re ready to let the singers have the floor again.

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If the general shape of the show is familiar, repeat customers are pleased to note that the selection of old Brazil 66 songs is constantly in rotation, which means I don’t get to hear “One Note Samba” again, but we do get several I don’t remember hearing at the last few shows - “She’s A Carioca”, “A Felicidade” and “Fool On The Hill”. “Agua De Beber” and “Berimbau” make welcome returns, along with the inescapable “Mais Que Nada”. And in what I hope is going to be an annual tradition, the evening concluded with a line of stunning South American women dancing on the barrier between the pit and the Garden Boxes. Dancing Brazillians always send everyone home smiling. I didn’t personally observe any horrified mothers covering their boys’ saucer eyes, as I did at last year’s show, but I’d like to imagine it happened.

Morcheeba opened with a Pink Floydian haze of reverbed guitar and organ, before finding a low, slinky groove and unleashing the soulful voice of Skye Edwards. While they might not have much in common with Sergio Mendes’ music, they do have that quality of an intense band that’s just simmering, deliberately keeping it close to the ground. Besides successfully combining psychedelia, Motown and hip-hop (they have the best integration of a DJ into a live band that I’ve ever witnessed), they’re notable in their use of colors within a distinct, somewhat heavy-lidded approach to their overall sound. I bet they’re a favorite of every HempFest DJ. They may be an acquired taste - not all of my neighbors were pleased to be hearing acid rock on samba night, but I acquired it quickly.