Os Mutantes at the Cedar, 11/30/12

Os Mutantes at the Cedar, 11/30/12
Photo via @MikeMinehart

Os Mutantes with Writer
November 30th, 2012
Cedar Cultural Center

It's easy to understand how Os Mutantes helped influence so many bands since their heyday in late '60s Brazil. The seamless blending of pop, rock, psychedelica, and prog with samba and bossa nova traditions made the group's sound strikingly unique and rich, and a number of high-profile acts have since adopted Os Mutantes' multi-layered style to their own music. Thanks to renewed interested in the band, they are back to touring and returned to the Cedar for their second show in Minneapolis in two years.

New York duo Writer opened with a sound seemingly chosen so as not to overwhelm the headliners. Their stripped-down pop sound centered on vocal harmonies, simplified drum patterns, and distorted major-key melodies, which would emanate either from the guitar or a synthesizer hooked through a table full of assorted pedals. The songs sans guitar worked a bit better for me, as Writer's song structures were interesting but lost some subtlety when the big chords took over. The electronic elements made for more nuanced-seeming songs, but it was enjoyable when they removed all elements except singing and clapping for certain songs. It didn't exactly blow me away but they were a generally good group that whet my excitement for Os Mutantes.

The six-person Os Mutantes, now with only two original members, maintain a fresh approach with their music, much of which is over 30 years old at this point. Frontman Sérgio Dias celebrated his 62nd birthday at midnight, emphasizing the length of time the band has spanned. Having reformed in 2006 after a 28-year break-up, the band's current existence is a classic opportunistic reunion, but the spirited songs and joyful energy throughout the night transcended whatever cynicism comes along with older bands. The Cedar was packed with people of all ages, all of whom seemed to have a great, if modest, time seeing the group. There was dancing towards the front and some shimmying in the middle of the crowd, but it was clear everyone was enjoying themselves. 

The intimacy of the venue created  real connection to the music and the people making it. One of my favorite aspects of Os Mutantes song-writing is the little interruptions and negative spaces that would remind you there were humans in front of you making this sound. The hand claps, the breaks in singing for laughter or raspberries or talking amongst the band --  each song has moments that pull you into it in a personal way beyond just how it was written. The space really made these moments shine and stand out, adding some new depth to each song.

The band maintained smiles and good vibes during their upbeat set, and it was contagious. There's a range of styles on display, but the connecting point seemed to be the fun and looseness that tied everything together. The melodic singing had some operatic undertones, the song structures had some definite prog influence, and the occasionally blaring guitar bursts were seemingly garage and possibly noise influenced, but pop was the key element here. Everything had a sheen to it that cast positive energy into the crowd. Even Dias' multiple moments of gesturing to the sound person or commenting on how his guitar strings felt strained didn't break the stride of the band or audience. 

The band has gone through a number of line-up changes since it got back together, but this incarnation (which was split evenly between men and women, which is a cool and rare thing) had great stage presence and interactions with each other. The sound remained youthful and vibrant, thanks to the band's natural charisma and the strength of the original songwriting. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone at the Cedar that night not feeling the same sense of joy wash through them.

Critic's Bias: I've been to a lot of rap shows lately, so melody and instruments are something I've been less used to seeing live. 

The Crowd: Range of ages, sizable. Everyone was enjoying themselves but dancing was kept pretty polite.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Show us the Minnesota Tuck!" Apparently, last time Os Mutantes were in town was the night of the big ice storm, and everyone slept over in the Cedar, where they were introduced to a special Minnesotan way of tucking someone in for the night.

Random Notebook Dump: I quoted many non-lyrics for keeping track of the setlist: "(claps) la la laaaaaaaa (further claps)" 

Dom Qixote
El Justiciero
Querida Querida
Neurociencia Do Amor
Top Top
A Minha Menina
Balada do Louco
Jardim Eletrico
Panis et Circenses
Bat Macumba

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