Words and Pictures by John Bohannon
Os Mutantes have carved out an odd niche for themselves in the current music world. The initial “wow” factor of the band's reunion is gone, and the trend-crazed fans have seemed to fall off a bit, leaving only the true disciples along for the ride. With very few exceptions the band’s actual fans came out of the woodwork for their show at New York City’s Webster Hall, and, let me tell you, this blew the pants clear off their mediocre-at-best showing during the Pitchfork Music Festival.
Rather than being surrounded by a bunch of clueless bandwagon jumpers, this was the real deal. Sergio Dias led his (relatively) new troop through 90 minutes of psychedelic infused samba, touching on both relics and new gems from their first album in 35 years, Haih or Amortecedor. The most impressive element of the night came from the addition of female vocalist Bia Mendes, replacing former vocalist Zélia Duncan. Filling the shoes of original member Rita Lee is no small task--she went on to be the most successful of the group--but Mendes has the required fervor and spunk that fits right into Mutantes quirky image. Not only that but she is also an absolute phenom behind the mic. Her vocal directions on the classic “Baby” were sultry, and downright convincing that she deserved this gig. Apparently I’m not the only one that thinks so. There is also a Facebook group entitled “I want to party with Bia Mendes.” It’s contagious, I know.
My main complaint with their show at the Pitchfork Festival was the lack of songs in their native tongue. English songs have never been Mutantes strong suit, but, thankfully, last night there was an extreme shortage and, instead, an overabundance of Portuguese tracks, largely due to the new album's material and also Tom Ze’s influence, I imagine. Speaking of Tom Ze’s influence, Os Mutantes has all of a sudden started treading the waters of dark psychedelia… and it's extraordinary. Ze has been cranking out some often atonal, strange beat-driven recordings over the past several years, and his influence is both appreciated and admired on the new Mutantes recordings. This being said, it was a fantastic showing and revived faith om their recent incarnation. A future without Mutantes is one I don’t want to live in, so bring on the strange brew.