Brazilian Os Mutantes Bring Greater-Than-Great Hits to Webster

By Carter Shelter, Staff Writer

Os Mutantes, a band that made a name for themselves as part of the Tropicália movement in late ‘60s Brazil by combining the psychedelic rock sounds coming from the U.S. and the U.K. at that time with traditional Brazilian and Latin influence, are one of those groups that seems to find their way to almost every music nerd at some point or another. Over the years, they’ve counted among their fans Kurt Cobain, Talking Heads’ David Byrne, and Beck, among countless others.

Trying to anticipate Os Mutantes’ show last week at Webster Hall was a puzzle – would it be akin to the sort of greatest hits performances now put on by countless American and British groups also active during the ’60s, full of sounds and imagery meant to take audiences back in time? How would they compare to the wave of modern forms of psychedelia that’s been seeping ever deeper into the musical landscape through artists like Tame Impala, Flying Lotus — who sampled them on Captain Murphy’s “The Killing Joke,”and Animal Collective? Those questions all seemed irrelevant within minutes of the band’s set, however, as they dove headfirst into an electrifying set of wall-shaking psychedelic rock and danceable rhythms.

Some of the energy brought to Webster Hall’s Marlin Room had to do with the fact that Os Mutantes currently only features one original member, bandleader Sergio Dias. The rest of the lineup is filled out by a slightly more youthful group of musicians. Yet it was Dias himself, along with co-lead vocalist Esmeria Bulgari, who proved the most engaging throughout the night. Displaying a remarkable proficiency on the guitar, Dias would jump from blues-rock shredding, to complex, jazz-influenced chord progressions, to bossa nova grooves at the drop of a hat. He was keeping the band on their toes, with songs that could dramatically change course at any moment — maybe calling to mind the dark progressive rock of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” in one moment and, just as soon as the crowd would start banging their head to that, a new groove would abruptly kick in and the audience would be dancing like they were in a Sao Paulo nightclub.

Through it all, Dias wore a big smile across his face, giving the impression of somebody who is still thrilled by the opportunity to get up on stage and entertain a crowd while also helping to fill the room with an infectious positivity that never quit.

While the band might have its heyday in the ‘60s, since their 2006 reunion they’ve put out two new records and songs from those, in particular “Time and Space” off of 2013’s “Fool Metal Jacket,” sounded just as fresh as bands a fraction of their age. The immense sound generated by bassist Vinicius Junqueira and drummer Claudio Tchernev, along with the swelling three-part harmonies of Dias, Bulgari, and keyboardist Henrique Peters gave the show an overwhelming sonic weight that could rival even the loudest of modern rockers.

Os Mutantes might have embraced a no-frills approach to psychedelic pop music in their early years, but some of their more progressive-leaning tendencies provided the most exciting moments of the night, including a John Bonham-esque drum solo that morphed into an extended jam and a rendition of “Ando Meio Desligado.” The piece saw Dias deliver a virtuoso-level guitar solo which led into a closing tease of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” On some of their ‘60s classics like “Bat Macumba,” “A Minha Menina,” and “Dois Mil e Um” it became evident both how many Brazilian people were in the crowd, and how big this band is there, as people of all ages began singing along to every word as Dis and Bulgari worked the stage.

It was an impressive showing from a legendary band. Regardless of who might be playing with them now, the chance to hear Dias and co. play through these compositions with the kind of power and intensity they brought to the stage that night is a treat that everybody should get the chance to experience.

Email Carter Shelter at music@nyunews.com. 

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