In the face of a Brazilian military coup, Sao Paulo's Os Mutantes thumbed their noses, spat out their tongues and produced some of the most bizarrely hypnotic and curiously subversive pop melodies this side of Sergeant Pepper's. Their lyrics, often rife with symbolism while teetering on the brink of absurdity, were largely lost on the English-speaking audience tonight, but for Brazilian kids in the 60's and 70's, Os Mutantes were the soundtrack to youthful rapture, simultaneously (and perhaps paradoxically) passionate and frivolous.
Nearly 40 years after the group first assembled, Os Mutantes are back with an arsenal of instruments and a large-scale supporting cast to layer the vocals and fill the stage with an ear-splitting wall of sound. As the lights go down in Lincoln Center's Rose Theatre, an epic Star-Trek meets Spartacus-style imperial march thunders over the loudspeakers and the band parades on stage, smiling, stomping and waving before settling in to the opening number, "Don Quixote". The song jumps from playful triangle, flute and chamber vocals into booming drums and pedal-crushing guitar, finally spiraling into a full scale psychedelic freak-out, replete with flashing red lights, scorching feedback, maniacal laughter, organs, tambourines, bird calls and a bicycle horn.
The band takes just a few moments between songs, and as the applause dies down the insanity ensues. A horseracing bugle calls for the audience's attention as lights flash, red, yellow and blue "Live long and prosper" bandleader Sergio Dias (guitar/vocals) says, smirking while doing his best Doctor Spock. Moments later he's on one knee in a mad distortion-heavy solo on "Cantor de Mambo".
Irreverence, eccentricity, and natural-born musical talents catalyze Os Mutantes' style, entwining textured vocal melodies with entrancing psychedelic-rock instrumentals on songs like "Baby", "A Minha Menina" and "Dia 36". Zelia Duncan replaces the sprightly, blond Rita Lee as lead female vocalist, and her bellowing, guttural style works quite effectively on percussive tracks like the booming "Bat Macumba".
The night finished with an energized "Panis et Circensis", the hypnotic opening track off the debut album that helped sound off the cultural revolution in Brazil known as Tropicalia. While much has changed since the days when a starry eyed trio of kids from Sao Paulos were turning Western music standards on its axis, there is still a twinkling sense of childlike joy to Dias, Baptista and their band as they smile widely and take their bows over the closing notes of the final number.