In 1993, Kurt Cobain made a valiant and formal attempt to get Brazil's Os Mutantes to reunite. He failed. Om Platten reissued the band's recordings officially in the United States and they sold like hotcakes globally, fostering all kinds of interest in the most psychedelic of the tropicalia lot but not a peep from the band. In 1998, Beck popped out his sideways tribute to the band with Mutations, employing all kinds of vocal, instrumental. and production techniques employed by the band that had moved him so deeply. Still nothing. Leave it to David Byrne (who had issued a wonderful compilation of their work on his Luaka Bop imprint) to encourage the original Os Mutantes brothers, Sergio Dias and Arnaldo Baptista, who assembled a band that included the amazing chanteuse Zélia Duncan (who replaced original female vocalist Rita Lee), along with drummer Dinho Leme, Henrique Peters, Vitor Trida, Fábio Recco, and Esméria Bulgari, to perform in London at the storied Barbican Theater in 2006. This document is the entire concert, presented in stunning sound with crackling energy to prove that those who attended, press and punters, weren't lying about how great it was. These 21 songs offer proof positive that years can indeed melt away, and whatever dowdy and dodgy myths that surrounded the fate its creators had endured were wiped away within the first few minutes of set opener "Don Quixote."
Os Mutantes didn't merely run though their hits, they played them with fire, humor, astonishing finesse, and creativity, revealing the sincere dearth of the same that exists on the rock scene (indie or not) at this moment in time. Dias is a better guitarist than he's ever been. His playing has lost none of its quirky yet utterly sophisticated charm. And in the intricate vocal harmonies on display in tracks like "Tecnicolor," "Ave Lucifer," "I Feel a Little Spaced Out," "Virginia," "Cantor de Mambo," and "A Mainha Menina," may have indeed influenced those soaring moments in Queen's middle period material. But it isn't just the influence that Os Mutantes have had upon so many acts, it's their stunning musical sophistication in performance. They are the true intersection where samba, psychedelic rock, doo wop, folk songs, classical music, and guerilla theater meet. Along with Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, and others, they created a musical and artistic environment so powerful it threatened a government. This is music one has to hear to believe, let alone comprehend. It moves the listener out past any preconceived notions that the Mutantes were able to do what they did in a recording studio but could never pull off live. The show, as divided by the two discs, has a thread running through it that moves the audience from one place to another to another and another until they are so utterly seduced and overwhelmed they are exhausted. A lot is being made of the guest performances of Noah Georgeson and Devendra Banhart on "Bat Macumba," but they don't add all that much, and that's not to take away from their contributions, either. It's simply that they aren't capable of adding much to this kaleidoscopic array of wild fun and musical genius. "Bat Macumba" rocks like a mother, but it's that cooking band that makes it all happen. The addition of Duncan -- a recording artist in her own right for Universal -- is a coup. Her range and ability to shift her focus from lead to harmony, to change tempo, key, and mode on a dime makes her a boon for this group. Her own foremost moments on "Tecnicolor," "Caminhante Noturno," and "2001," where samba meets calypso meets acid-damaged rock and sci-fi doo wop are mindblowers. Forget what you know or what you don't. If you've not listened to Os Mutantes before, this is a great place to start: you can hear the studio records, amazing as they are, later. If you own the studio records, they will not adequately prepare you for what's on display here.