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Published: 2005/09/22
by Jesse Jarnow

Seu Jorge, Bowery Ballroom, NYC- 9/12

NYC ROLL-TOP: A Last Airing of Summer Flesh

"If you want to get lucky, now is the time," Seu Jorge told the crowd with a grin midway through his second night at Manhattan's Bowery Ballroom, the man next to me kindly translating Jorge's banter from Portuguese to English. "After this, forget about it," Jorge added. The crowd cheered, most of them likely having no idea what Jorge was saying — 'cause, if they did, they'd've at least suspected he was lying (at least about the latter part).

Known to Americans primarily for his nylon-string renditions of David Bowie covers in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the internationally popular Brazilian musician has been making in-roads into the gringo audience with this year’s Cru. And why not? His music — sinuous and deep, like the best of his nation’s output — is accessible, danceable, smart, and sexy. There is also the unavoidable appeal of the exotic. "He’s kind of every girl’s fantasy," a friend of mine posited, and it was hard not to see his point when Jorge took the stage.

As Jorge emerged dressed stylishly in a long-sleeved black tee-shirt that announced "Rock and Roll is not dead!", black shorts, and shiny dress shoes (his head topped with a Sideshow Bob-like mass of dreadlocks, his chin dabbed with a well-tended goatee), the predominantly female crowd veritably sighed. With a four-piece band behind him, Jorge — strumming a ukulele — opened with the talking drum-laced "Mania De Peitao," before launching into "Tive Razao," Cru’s propulsive lead-off cut. Jorge and the musicians — expanded from the pair he brought with him in June to S.O.B.‘s — traded off on percussion, guitar, and uke duties (except for a bassist who manned his post continuously). Melodies were simple and effective, the five-man rhythm section churning perfectly.

For a generation who reveres Beck's tropicalia-tinged Mutations, it’s a natural leap to Jorge. He’s got genuine star appeal, too, the language barrier casting a mysterious sheen on all proceedings. And, while undoubtedly exotic, Jorge communicates in the international language of pop. Cru is populated by bass synths and brilliant ballads, not to mention hepcat covers by the likes of Serge Gainsbourg and Brill Building staples Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Jorge is not a novelty, in any way, shape, or form, and one looks forward to how he might develop.

"Cheers!" Jorge said after his first encore, "Eu Sou Favela," finally raising the full bottle of Corona that had sat by his stool, undrunk, for the whole set. He made to leave, and his bandmates did. Jorge hesitated, and sat back down, turning in a mini-set of Bowie covers — "Life on Mars," "Rebel, Rebel," and "Ziggy Stardust" — giving the audience three more chances to get lucky on a late summer's night.

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