Brazilian singer-songwriter Gilberto Gil was nothing short of regal as he delivered a mesmerizing, nearly two-hour tribute Saturday at Seattle’s Meany Hall to his early inspiration, João Gilberto.
Sitting in a chair, with a crop of silver hair and a smile that lit up the stage almost as brightly as the spotlight that surrounded him, the great Brazilian singer-songwriter Gilberto Gil was nothing short of regal as he delivered a mesmerizing, nearly two-hour tribute Saturday at Meany Hall to his early inspiration, João Gilberto.
It was a historic concert, not just because it was the 72-year-old singer’s belated Seattle debut, but — per his most recent album, ‘Gilbertos Samba” — it was a look back at tradition by a rebel who has spent a lifetime pushing past it.
A co-conspirator with Caetano Veloso in Brazil’s late ‘60s Tropicália movement, Gil is best known for injecting African sensibilities to the Brazilian mainstream. But just as Veloso, who made his Seattle debut last year, surprised the crowd with his harsh edges, Gil had something up his sleeve, too.
He began quietly, with the intimate prayer “Aos Pés Da Cruz,” which appeared on the album that launched bossa nova, Joào Gilberto’s 1959 “Chega de Saudade.’ But while Gil followed this with other standards — the whimsical “O Pato,” the passionate “Morena Rosa” and the vigorous “Doralice” — he never played “Chega” itself nor other bossa warhorses.
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He is too subtle for that, doing Velosos’ flowing classic, “Desde Que o Samba É Samba” instead. So when Gil did finally play the biggest bossa hit of all, “Desafinado,” his backup band — drummer Domenico Lancelotti, accordionist Mestrinho and Gil’s son, Bem, on a variety of instruments — subtly subverted it with wild electronic percussion.
From that moment on, the show turned from earnest tribute to joyous celebration, which got the crowd enthusiastically chanting the nonsense syllables “bop chi bop bop” on the amusing “Chiclete Com Banana.” The show concluded with a three-song encore that featured Ary Barroso’s quick-footed samba, “É Luxo Só ” and Gil’s signature songs, “Eu Vim Da Bahia” and “Aquele Abraço,” which got the sold-out crowd dancing in place and singing along.
Gil was slightly hoarse but in good voice and his left hand leapt over the neck of the guitar with immaculate authority. He chatted often and amiably with the crowd — at one point in Portuguese (which the Brazilian-heavy crowd didn’t mind) — detailing how songs have come to him in various hotel rooms around the world.
It was a night to cherish and that hopefully will be repeated.