Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012
Better than: Bossa nova.
Emotions were outsized last night in downtown Oakland as hundreds of protesters marched to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Movement. Defiance and darkness charged the air as the people gathered in solidarity on the barricaded streets, where flashing lights defined our right-of-way. We laughed at Chase and Wells Fargo with their clapboard-armored windows. We gazed in weary wonder at the brave new sky, loud with police and media choppers. Outside the Paramount Theatre, there seemed to be more security than usual, including paramedics in hazard fatigues. Despite these signs of foreboding, we anticipated high times ahead. There would be music and laughter and stiletto-heeled dancers. No one would fear falling down without getting a hand up. Beloved Brazilian superstar Gilberto Gil would bring us the light.
That's exactly what the 70-year-old band leader did, kicking off his nearly two-hour SFJazz set with the mood-setting "Fe Na Festa," an upbeat number with a curious rhythmic chug. Think Johnny Cash played by a band of butterflies, all forward-momentum, spry and colorful. Gil's septet is all about the groove, and the grooves are unusual, globetrotting in cowboy boots. His sound is like a south-of-the-border hoedown: vocals, fiddle, and accordion upfront; funkified bass on the bottom-end; dueling guitars (with the occasional electric banjo); and intricately propulsive percussion. We'd never heard a triangle lay down a backbeat like this before. The fusion of style and substance was electric. We heard booty-bumpin' carnival and laid-back island rhythms, jam band sidetrips and natty reggae, sophisticated Bela Fleck improv and New Orleans marching-band frenzy. The Portuguese translation: baião, forró, samba, and even some Colombian cumbia for extra-added hip sway.
The audience was on its feet for half the show, at least. Gil played the crowd-pleasers from his songbook of more than four decades. The singalongs came without prompting on tunes like "Vamos Fugir," "Andar com Fe," and "Expresso 2222." While the people provided the chorus (and a number of the verses), Gil yelped like a happy puppy. He was clearly overjoyed to bring Oakland some sunshine from Brazil. He also paid homage to Bob Marley with a pair of freshly arranged classics, "Three Little Birds" and "No Woman No Cry" (sung in English and Portuguese, no less).
When the all-ages crowd wasn't singing or clapping (outstanding synchronicity, by the way, on hot syncopated rhythms), folks stepped out in the aisles, swinging like they knew what they were doing (oh, they did!). There was a kissing-cousins family feel to the concert -- and more than enough love for all to share. Affectionate shout-outs interrupted Gil's between-song storytelling. He was gracious, giving. "I love you too," he said. Everyone smiled, uplifted by the positive vibrations that stayed with us long after the music was over.
Bay Area Brazil: If you don't know that there's a massive Brazilian community in the Bay Area, you might need to get out in your high-heeled sneakers more often.