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Published: 2007/08/16
by Jesse Jarnow

Os Mutantes, Rose Hall, NYC- 7/17

NYC ROLL-TOP: Return of the Return of the Mutantes

There was a moment — maybe not odd, maybe not even that surprising — that came midway through Os Mutantes' victory lap reunion tour return to Manhattan on July 17th. Guitarist Sergio Dias Baptista strode to the center of the stage in his semi-Fab finery and placed his foot up on a monitor wedge to deliver a fuzz-drenched solo. And there, at the end of his leg, was unmistakably a Converse All-Star. If there was any reason to wear Converse All-Stars besides as status symbol of a free-thinking freak — 'cause they sure ain't comfortable — Baptista wasn't making any.

"Anyone calling themselves 'the Mutants' feels like our brothers," Flaming Lips' leader Wayne Coyne said when the flagship band of the Brazilian tropicalismo reunited last year, and his point is worth considering: an international karass of weirdo aesthetes. Think of Yamantaka Eye and the Boredoms in Japan, who’ve struck up kinships with Sonic Youth and Ween, and drew upwards of 4,000 fans to their free 77-drummer extravaganza in Brooklyn in July. Or the Tall Dwarfs in New Zealand, who’ve become buddy-buddy with the Elephant 6 collective in Athens, Georgia. Or any of the literally hundreds of psyched-out experiments unearthed via the Mutant Sounds blog of bedroom tweakers from Sweden, Australia, and the world. And, of course, it is not limited to musicians. The fact of the matter is that everywhere there are goofed-out peeps looking to do absurd battle with the Man, from the Bread and Puppet theater troupe in Vermont to anarchist collectives who live in houseboats in Holland. One could even make an historical case that the tradition stretches back even further, past the Beats, and plugs into trickster archetypes immemorial, from Don Quixote to Walt Whitman.

So, sure, it was a reunion show where three original members of a Sixties band were flanked by an outfit of younger, flashier players (and a set that was virtually identical to the band's pass through the city last year), but it also rang with straight good nature. "Live long and prosper," Sergio Dias grinned near the start of the show, vaguely swearing deeper allegiance to the counterculture. Like last year's performance at Webster Hall, the Mutantes tore through revamped (sometimes English-sung) renditions of their five-album catalogue. And, like last year, Sergio Dias's long-troubled brother, Arnaldo, was mostly inaudible. Once the group's bassist, a long history of drug and mental health woes devolved him to a quiet keyboard, something like Mutantes' Brian Wilson.

If the Mutantes were finding their feet last summer, by this year's turn they sound like (to continue the comparison) Wilson's crack support band. Instead of donning fire helmets for "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow," the new Mutantes take up insecticide pumps to recreate their use on "Le Premier Bonheur Du Jour," where the Baptista brothers once mis-replicated the backwards-masked guitars of Revolver. Mostly, the band delivered a rich rendering of favorites, many penned for Mutante use by their tropicalismo contemporaries, including Jorge Ben’s "A Minha Menina," Caetano Veloso’s "Baby," and Gilberto Gil’s "Bat Macumba."

Sergio Dias was resplendent throughout, peeling solos on his guitar (custom-built by a third Baptista brother, Claudio) that sounded genuinely overloaded, especially during "Bat Macumba." Arnaldo gradually came to life over the course of the show, suddenly gaining volume during "I Feel A Little Spaced Out," where he engaged in a jazzy dialogue with his brother. He continued to cut-up through the rest of the set, flashing hip-hop signs, and eventually exited the stage with his brother, the two grinning and falling over each other like a pair of authentic mop-tops. And, if it wasn't anything new, it was at least some kind of victory.

Jesse Jarnow blogs at wunderkammern27.com

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