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There's no silencing Veloso's spirit

Once persecuted in his native Brazil, the pop music genius lights up UCLA's Royce Hall.

October 31, 2002|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

From the moment Caetano Veloso glides onstage, landing flamingo-like on one foot at the microphone, it's obvious he responds to odd rhythmic impulses.

The revered and graying Brazilian artist moves like a not-quite-coordinated child discovering the joys of dance. He takes jagged steps and awkward hops, then leans abruptly to one side as if ambushing the beat. All the while, his long and gangly arms flutter and flail and occasionally flow with the elegance of a hula.

Somewhere in that spasmodic but graceful motion lies the genius that revolutionized the smooth and soothing sounds of Brazil. At UCLA's Royce Hall on Tuesday, Veloso showed that he is still driven by the restless creative spirit that first gained him fame and infamy in the late '60s.

Veloso, 60, is considered one of Brazil's greatest living pop music figures, a man whose musical concepts were so subversive he was jailed in 1969, then forced into exile by his country's military dictatorship.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 01, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 9 inches; 338 words Type of Material: Correction
Joao Gilberto -- A review of Caetano Veloso in Thursday's Calendar Weekend mistakenly referred to Joao Gilberto, Brazilian singer-guitarist, as being dead. He isn't.

His crime was playing a part in a brash, short-lived cultural experiment called Tropicalia, which fused traditional Brazilian forms with electric rock guitars, psychedelic sensibilities and avant-garde poetry. Such fusions sound routine today but, at the time, the Tropicalistas sparked an aesthetic upheaval that reshaped Brazilian pop culture.

Veloso continues to experiment with sounds and concepts, most recently hip-hop. And he remains an especially challenging artist onstage, speaking not a word by way of introduction or explanation. His almost two-hour show Tuesday (the first of two scheduled nights at Royce) featured songs that spanned more than three decades but focused on selections from last year's acclaimed "Noites do Norte," which explores issues of slavery, racism and identity.

Several people left before the close of Tuesday's show. Perhaps they were among those superficially seduced by the media's anointing of Veloso as a hip item for the world-music crowd. Perhaps they expected more straight samba or soft bossa nova from the artist, an exuberant admirer of the late Joao Gilberto. In any case, his die-hard fans were in the majority and they adored him to the end.

His eight-man band is all strings and skins. An array of Brazilian and American drums produced syncopated patterns, now jagged, now pulsating.

The melodies, by turns sweet and dissonant, were left to amplified guitars and an electric cello. The latter was played masterfully by musical director Jaques Morelenbaum, a serene, balding, Buddha-like figure beside the skinny, herky-jerky Veloso.

The singer's nasal voice is as soft, lush and sensual as his native tongue. All his lyrics were in Portuguese, except for an unexpected English rendition of "I Only Have Eyes for You" and his stunning reconstruction in Spanish of the Mexican classic "Cucurucucu Paloma."

Veloso is most commanding at a near-whisper, as he demonstrated during one tune that he sang so softly that he was barely audible. The audience had to chuckle at his uncanny ability to be heard without raising his voice.

That's a talent that marveled even those who tried to silence him.

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