Os Mutantes – Live at the Barbican, 22 May

MutantesPicture the scene. London in summer. Grey skies, huge globules of rain and thousands of people rushing around from tube to tube not aware that something incredible is about to happen. Whilst most are in a hurry to get to the next hold-up, those lucky enough to be in the know are about to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition.

Os Mutantes, one of the leaders in the Tropicalia movement of Brazil, reformed for one gig only. It’s difficult to grasp just how pivotal this moment is going to be. It can only be likened to something like Pink Floyd getting back together with Syd Barrett and playing a one off gig.

For those unaware of Os Mutantes, and the importance of the Tropicalia movemment, let me fill you in. Mutantes were formed in 1965 by Arnaldo and Sergio Dias Baptista, teenage brothers
from Sao Paulo, and Arnaldo’s girlfriend Rita Lee. Without question, they were
Brazil’s most inventive and irreverent group. The trio
became the backing band for Tropicália, the avant-garde movement formed
by the singers Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso in 1967. Tropicalia was a movement against the oppression from the Brazilian dictatorship, who had in essence, put a stamp on creativity. If Dylan revolutionised music by infusing folk and rock, then the Tropiclia bands did the same. However, Zimmerman’s roots lay in America dustbowl folk, Mutantes, along with Gal Costa, Tom Ze, Gil and Veloso had bossa as their cornerstone, and risked imprisonment or death by performing their music. It’s a wonder that they all released any records at all.

Many of the Tropicalia acts sought refuge in London during their Brazilian exile, and maybe this is the reason they’ve all come to the Barbican to perform for a still slackjawed crowd. Mutantes haven’t played a note together anywhere in the world since 1975, and the lead up to the gig is a mixed atmosphere of people eager to see the heroes. Will they demolish their songs? Will they live up to the hype?

After the support acts have passed (Nacao Zumbi, a Brazilian mixture of Mos Def and Asian Dub Foundation) the electricity in the air becomes palpable. The crowd, which impressively is made up of mostly Brazilians, give Sergio Dias a standing ovation when he comes out to tinker with one of the band’s home invented sonic treasures (a fuzz pedal powered by a sewing machine). It seems like a return of some long awaited deity. Then, the lights dim and the band walk out onto the stage to the most deafening applause this scribe has ever heard.

Rita Lee has long left the group, to become an huge artist, filling stadiums with Cher-esque stadium rockers of questionable artistic value. Replacing her on stage was the impish Lia Duncan, who dressed in all black, harked back to the witch theme so often hammed by the group. The Baptista brothers, in resplendent conquistador outfits kicked into some mind frying psyche, and immediately lived up to the hype. The Mutantes played most of the first three LPs and a normally reserved Barbican turned into a mass of dancing, sobbing, devoted bodies, singing along to songs not necessarily of the native tongue of a large chunk of the crowd.

Ando Meio Desligdo, Baby, Cantor De Mambo, Ave Lucifer and El Justiciero filled the hall with what was rapidly becoming a carnival. The biggest cheers on the night were saved for two of the biggest Tropicalia hits. The infectious Bat Macumba started with an unusual group harmony, before launching into the sublime percussion and addictive bass. The group also had a little treat in store by inviting Davendra Banhart onto the stage to help out with the backing vocals. Then, pandemonium reigned as the Sao Paulo troupe launched into a 10 minute version of A Minha Menina, stating with the Portugese lyrics, which segued into the English lryic from the ‘Technicolour’ long player.

The band took a bow, and skipped off stage. The crowd naturally wanted more, and chanted MU-TAN-TES for a good fifteen minutes. Alas, the band didn’t take the stage, and the roadies received some playful pantomine boos when taking down the kit away. Not a single person left the Barbican unhappy, and the joy shared with the group was evident. Sergio Dias, grinning throughout the gig, Arnaldo playfully raising his arms like a vampire, revelling in the moment. It obviously came as quite a shock to the group who were previously unaware of their popularity outside of Latin America.  Thankfully for them, and for the crowd, the show was a rave; a success beyond words. A truly wonderful moment which no-one present will ever forget. Witnessed was a band still light years ahead of the current crop of would be psychedelics, and a band with one felled swoop, realised a room full of people’s dreams.

Incredible and life changing.

[Mof Gimmers]

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3 Responses to “Os Mutantes – Live at the Barbican, 22 May”

  1. matt Says:

    I completely disagree with this review. I thought the show was disastrous. Everything that made their records so great (the cutting guitar, feedback, blasting trumpets, distortion, sense of humour) wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Most of the songs wouldn’t have sounded out of place of Eurovision. I adore the Os Mutantes records and I had been looking forward to this for ages, but I wish they hadn’t reformed – I thought it was really embarrassing and very boring.

  2. jonny Says:

    Matt, I guess it’s about expectations. I love their records but had no real expectations for the gig. So many of my Brazilian heroes have wound up disappointing in the 21st century. But I thought the show was pretty astounding. And while I don’t remember any rasping trumpts, there was a good deal of humour, distortion, feedback and cutting guitar. At least from where I was sitting!

  3. mof gimmers Says:

    It seems that all who went down with unfeasible expectations came away disappointed. I personally went in thinking they’d be awful, and as a result, was blown away. All the killer Mutantes FX could be heard throughout, their voices sounded excellent… I’m with Jonny on this one… from where I was sat, and certainly the hundred’s of people dancing like loons around me, they sounded incredible.

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