Gilberto Gil keeps is simple and satisfying
The Brazilian, accompanied by son Bem and cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, brings to UCLA the relaxed confidence of a lifelong star.
Twelve guitar strings, four cello strings and two vocal cords -- those were the components of what Gilberto Gil described with mathematical precision as the "very simple concert" he performed Saturday night at UCLA's Royce Hall, where the Brazilian singer-guitarist was accompanied by cellist Jaques Morelenbaum and Gil's son Bem on guitar.
And aside from the tambourine Bem picked up near the end of the two-hour show, Gil's accounting proved essentially accurate: This was a determinedly uncluttered presentation of material from throughout Gil's 40-year career, from early songs about cultural upheaval to a pair of new tunes (one written for his daughter Maria's recent wedding) depicting his role as proud paterfamilias.
Still, Gil's list of ingredients left out one key element of the show sound: enthusiastic participation of his audience, which contributed vocals and handclaps both at Gil's invitation (as in "Babá Alapalá," for which he led a robust call-and-response sequence) and of its own accord (as in "Andar com Fé," which took on the rousing feel of a national anthem).
Casually attired in crisp designer jeans and an untucked dress shirt open at the collar, Gil, 67, sang and played Saturday with the relaxed confidence of a lifelong star. (After spending five years as Brazil's minister of culture, Gil returned to music full time in 2008.)
During "Flora," an ode to his wife, he plucked his guitar gently while exhaling a series of melodic turns that were as lovely as they were unexpected. Later, he dropped a bit of the Beatles' "Penny Lane" into "Metáfora," illuminating his music's understated man-of-the-world sophistication; another nod toward the Beatles surfaced in an "Eleanor Rigby"-ish reading of "Panis et Circences."
Yet Gil also demonstrated plenty of the arty intransigence that's made him a hero to such young indie rockers as Devendra Banhart, with whom Gil shared a bill at the Hollywood Bowl two years ago.
In "Não Tenho Medo da Morte," he tapped his guitar like a drum and delivered his vocal in a low, steady growl; the sound approximated a kind of acoustic rap.
"Um Banda Um" rode a choppy funk groove, with guitar riffs from Gil and his son. For "Nightingale" -- which Gil introduced as "an L.A. song" because he'd recorded it here with Sergio Mendes in the late '70s -- the musicians rocked the hardest they did all night, as Gil sang a charmingly childlike lyric in English that Banhart might have been happy to claim as his own: "Water, love and seeds / Those were all his needs."
At Royce Hall, Gil's needs were similarly minimal. What he created from them, though, couldn't so easily be contained.