In the history of Great Second Acts for rock bands, one of the most rewarding returns to the stage has to be that of the Brazilian band Os Mutantes. Virtually unheard in the US from the time they started in Sao Paulo, they were genuinely trippy, melding sixties rock with the sounds of South America and their own twisted musical sensibilities. They were key contributors to the infamous 1969 compilation Tropicalia/ Ou Panis Et Circenses which announced a new generation of outspoken musicians that included Gal Costa, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, and led to the latter two musicians becoming exiles in the UK shortly thereafter. Praise from North American fans like Kurt Cobain and Beck introduced them by name to a curious audience starting in the 90’s, leading to a series of reissues and a handful of US dates in the mid 2000s. Every few years since, they’ve been back, led by original member Sergio Dias, occasionally producing new music, and always bringing the joy of life back into their catalog.
This headlining show at the Ford was clearly a joyous occasion for the band, who sold out three nights at Highland Park’s Lodge Room last fall. Led by Dias and lead singer Esmeria Bulgari, this latest collective of musicians is perhaps the best one yet to tour the States. They’re vocally and instrumentally well suited to tackle the group’s spaced-out sixties catalog (Fuga No. 2″, “Dois Mil E Um”, “Panis Et Circenses”) as well as the sophisticated pop numbers (“Ando Meio Desligado”, “Balada Do Luoco”, “Technicolor”), and Deep Purple-worthy biker rock of the 70s (“Jardim Electrico”, “A Hora E A Vez Do Cabelo Nascer (Cabeludo Patriota)”, which Sepultura cover without having to change anything in particular to make it sound more metal), and the newest music, “Beyond” from the album Zzyzx, and “Time and Space” from the previous effort Fool Metal Jack, which seems downright McCartney-esque in its sincerity and warmth.
Dias is still playful enough to mess with the format, taking the well-known “Bat Macumba” to new places after breaking down the lyric to its last syllable, taking us to outer space and back before building it up again. The playing is immaculate, masterful, but the willingness to continue the exploration of these tunes is the new lineup’s most intriguing quality. They keep on mutating, yet remain Mutantes, what other way could it possibly be?