Brazilian music icon Gilberto Gil was scheduled to perform a concert at the Byham Theater on Thursday night. But the numerous expatriate Brazilians in the audience had to know -- and, truth be told, I suspected -- that a dance party would eventually break out.
The 70-year-old Mr. Gil, also a major political figure in his home country, plays that kind of music. No, not just or even primarily the samba and more laid-back bossa nova that come to mind when most people think of "Brazilian music" but the folk and pop of the northeastern region of that large country.
What Mr. Gil referred to as the music of his childhood is truly "world music" -- of course with Afro-Brazilian percussion at its heart but also elements of American funk, Celtic, European and even a little Jamaican reggae thrown in for spice.
Not only that, but the six-piece backup band was incredibly tight, not a note out of place. There weren't any extended jams during the 18-song set plus encore, but perhaps the music doesn't call for a lot of individual virtuosity.
It took a while for things to start cooking and then boil over. Only during "Assim Sim," the third number, did Mr. Gil, who also plays rhythm guitar and displayed the moves of a man less than half his age, get the audience clapping in rhythm. During the medley of "No Mundo do Lua" and "Gilo/Expresso 2222" people began dancing, Mr. Gil doing a call-and-response with guitarist Sergio Chiavazzoli during the former. But the dam finally burst halfway through the show during "Andar com Fe," the aisles filling with dancers.
As a bit of a surprise, Mr. Gil and company offered Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" and "No Woman No Cry," the latter featuring Mr. Chiavazzoli on a searing solo. The most intimate moment came with the ballad "Lamento Sertanejo," during which Mr. Gil was backed only by accordionist Toninho Ferragutti and violinist Nicholas Krassik. Yes, accordion and violin, certainly not instruments usually associated with Brazilian music.
As someone who's uninformed, I appreciated Mr. Gil's brief history lesson about its origins; the songs "Xote da Meninia" and "Xodo," for example, came from Scotland via the Portuguese royal family, which two centuries ago settled in exile in Brazil. Mr. Krassik especially shone here.
The band really let loose during the instrumental "Casamento da Raposa," bassist Arthur Maia throwing down the groove and Mr. Chiavazzoli tearing into his electric ukulele, ultimately evolving into a battle royal between drummer Jorge Gomes and percussionist Gustavo Di Dalva. Mr. Gil allowed the crowd to chant the lyrics to the encore of "Barracos."
Now, if I could only learn Portuguese.
Rick Nowlin: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3871. First Published November 17, 2012 5:00 AM