Of all the influential musicians and songwriters to contribute to and emerge from Brazil’s Tropicalismo movement, none has had the continuing impact, or left an oeuvre as staggering, as Caetano Veloso. He played New York City’s Terminal 5 last night as part of a brief U.S. tour.
Caetano Veloso sings with his hands. When not strumming diminished seventh chords, his arms and hands are continually gesticulating, like a Bill T. Jones interpretive dance accompanying each song. Thursday night at Terminal 5, Veloso’s arms were most often extended with palms out, an open embrace of the warehouse-like venue and its not-quite capacity crowd. But he’d also embrace himself, toss his arms in the air, twirl his hands like twisting helixes, or walk like an Egyptian. It seemed like he really just wanted to lift off in the hang-glider that served as a backdrop behind him and his three-piece band.
For the crowd—overwhelming comprised of Portuguese speakers of all ages—the nearly two-hour concert was a sentimental and nostalgic trip. The delicate “Desde Que O Samba é Samba”, which was performed as a solo acoustic number midway through the concert, moved many to fervent shushing. Its gentle sing-along conveyed comfort, especially with Veloso at the helm. Introducing “Maria Bethânia”, one of the only English songs in the set, Veloso reminisced about the circumstances under which he wrote the song, in exile in London nearly 40 years ago. Unfortunately another sing-along, “Mimar Voce”, and its beautiful chorus, were left off the set list.
A musical stalwart of liberal progress, Veloso’s political tone has hardly softened with age. The critical “Base De Guantánamo” was chilling, as the band’s rattling hits synced with lightning strikes projected on the scrim behind the stage. Other video clips of Havana and Cuba followed.
The majority of the set was full of lively rhythms and heavy electric lead guitar. But it’s Veloso’s clean and clear voice that is the real attraction. Like Sinatra’s, it beguiles with its apparent simplicity but seduces with its malleable, crystal tone.
While Veloso is adored with avuncular reverence, he was replete with adolescent exuberance. And though he sings with his hands, his entire body was in continuous motion—something his eclectic music constantly provokes. He worked the front of the stage, swaying and gyrating his hips whenever the moment, or the front-row, called for it. By the end of the night it even verged on provocative, something Veloso never eschews.
Photos by Thomas Hauner