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Marisa Monte and Rodrigo Amarante, Wolf Trap, Vienna VA, June 30, 2023

Marisa Monte and Rodrigo Amarante, Wolf Trap, Vienna VA, June 30, 2023
July 16, 2023 10:18AM
Marisa Monte and Rodrigo Amarante
Wolf Trap, Vienna, VA June 30, 2023

My friend Eduardo, who should know these things, tells me that there are 50,000 Brazilians living in the DC metropolitan area. This wouldn’t be immediately evident; there are no ethnic enclaves like there are for the Koreans in Virginia or Ethiopian or Salvadoran immigrants in DC and Maryland. But there must be a lot of Brazilians around somewhere, because MPB legend Marisa Monte had a vast audience at Wolf Trap for a show opened by Rodrigo Amarante. Not only were almost all of the audience speaking excitedly amongst themselves em português, but even the video signage about recycling and food for sale and public transportation options was in the language too. It was like the leafy National Park for the Performing Arts had been transformed for the evening to a wealthy enclave outside of Rio or São Paulo.

My affection for Brazilian music is sincere but very fragmentary. I have batches of records by Tom Jobim and Gal Costa and Joao Gilberto and Caetano Veloso, and I love the psychedelic experiments of Os Mutantes, but musica popular brasileira mostly escaped me. But it’s indisputable that MPB is one of the most important indigenous musical forms of the latter 20th century, informed by trends in Europe and North America and the Spanish-speaking southern hemisphere but undeniably its own distinctive sound and aesthetic. I had entered into an online contest for free tickets at Wolf Trap solely on my passing knowledge of Monte and Amarante’s work, and to my surprise won two seated tickets for Susan and me.

Opening act, Rodrigo Amarante, who pronounces his name one way to Portuguese speakers and in a completely different way to the Americans in the audience, was a delight. He did mostly subtle acoustic guitar pieces with a murmuring, quietly mesmerizing voice, that reminded me of some of Peter Gabriel’s ballads.

Performing without accompaniment or visual effects, except his own whistling and a bit of tapping of his feet, Rodrigo Amarante was a subtle charmer. Amarante’s songs could have been described as a kind of murmuring folk rock with the singing and acoustic guitar, but of course the chords and tempos are not what a North American ear would expect. That is, unless the American ear had listened to the theme of the Netflix series Narcos, for which Amarante sings the theme, “Tuyo” (165 million streams on Spotify, plus another 76 million on an extended version.) The subtly swaying “Tuyo” is of course in Spanish, a language he speaks and sings in, but it’s not his own.

Far more consistent with what we heard at Wolf Trap were the songs from his most recent album, Drama. It’s interesting to me that Amarante’s records in the United States are on Polyvinyl Records, an indie rock label better known for emo like American Football and Pedro the Lion. On his American albums, Amarante is singing in Portuguese but also English and French, and he did one piece at Wolf Trap in English. Amarante is a wit, sharing lighthearted between-song banter and a sweet storytelling style, including a charming anecdote about doing his soundtrack during the afternoon thunderstorm where the birds accompanied him under the wooden pavilion at Wolf Trap.

The Amarante set was necessarily pared down, and listening to the orchestration and arrangements of the Drama album and its predecessors, I can see how he complements his guitar with horns and subtle percussion.

The contrast between Amarante’s set and the headliner couldn’t be more stark, and to be clear, Amarante is more my kinda thing aesthetically than Marisa Monte. The thing about Marisa Monte is that it’s not samba, although she is certainly informed by samba and knowledgeable of its traditions, and it’s not tropicalia or rock and roll, although she has done songs by many of the great tropicalistas, and her performance has some of the machisma of legendary rock divas.

I was texting with Eduardo during the show. He was out of town, but is a dedicated MPB fan. He told me his take — that Monte was truly one of his favorites from his childhood in Rio but (like Chico Buarque, he said) he worried that it might not seem like the most engaging music to non-Brazilians. I can see that; what emerged for me was the influence of musical theater and an overt sentimentality and lush romanticism that can seem a bit corny to American ears. Aesthetically she has has the unabashed glamour and stage presence (and the costume changes!) of a mononymic legend, like an Aretha or Cher or Tina, although her music doesn’t call those signifiers to mind.

The tour was for Monte’s recent album from 2021, Portas, and there was an elaborate video behind the band during the introductory song of the same name, playing on the imagery of doors and gates, corridors and pathways. Portas had been her first album in 11 years, and apparently every Brazilian star from the past several decades jumped on the chance to collaborate with her. Her band is remarkable; the horn section in particular really shines. I was interested in the way her vocal and the horn section tend to track the same melodies. The trombonist has a really key role; where in American or European pop do you see a central role for the trombone?

Some songs, like Portas’ “Calma,” have a definite groove. Others were theatrical vocal centerpieces, more for crowd adulation than engagement, like the brassy swagger of “A Língua dos animais,” but many of the songs inspired enthusiastic arm swaying and dancing among the crowd on the lawn. She did a flashback (as she said) to an early hit and I saw every Brazilian woman in her 40s singing along joyously.

In the lengthy set, she changed costumes at least four times on stage — from a reflective mirror-style form-fitting dress to flowing white gown to a black nightclub outfit. It was a display of bravura stagecraft, and she’s certainly fascinating to watch even if the music is unfamiliar.

In one lovely moment, she invited Rodrigo Amarante back on stage for a duet cover of Caetano Veloso’s “Nu com a minha música,” apparently the first time she’d done the song on stage. She also sang just a small part of Caetano’s legendary “O Leãozinho” a cappella for her bassist Dadi, who was the inspiration for the song. This is a song I know well, from Caetano’s own version and numerous covers, and it was a sweet touch.

We didn’t stay the whole time; Susan was burned out and it was late; the drive to Wolf Trap is no one’s idea of a good time unless you already live in the Virginia suburbs. Eduardo had told me that Monte tends to end her shows with her 1989 solo hit “Bem Que Se Quis” as the encore, with the crowd singing the choruses. We missed the end of the show, but she did close with it, according to the setlist here.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/16/2023 11:46AM by zwirnm.
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