We’re definitely old enough to have experienced Brazilian rock band Os Mutantes in its first incarnation in the mid-Sixties.
But timing isn’t really everything.
We grew up in a household where listening to rock ‘n roll (aka The Devil’s Music) was, shall we say, not encouraged. And we lived in a community outside of Philadelphia where conformity ruled. And being 11, or so when Os Mutantes started making music, we were at a tender age where that type of pressure was pretty effective in keeping us in line.
On top of everything else, Brazil might as well have been the other side of the moon.
So, all in all, it’s no surprise that we didn’t know anything at all about Os Mutantes — founded by brothers Arnaldo Baptista on bass, keyboards and vocals and Sérgio Dias Baptista on guitar and vocals — until the psychedelic band started its Second Act when it reunited in 2006.
We’re sorry we missed the band’s First Act, but we were hardly alone among American music fans. And we’re thrilled we didn’t miss the Second Act.
That First Act ended like it did with so many bands from the Sixties in acrimony, fueled by craziness and drug abuse. By the time the band dissolved in 1978, the only original member left was Sérgio. (Remember this. There will be a quiz!)
Purists argued that the personnel of the band that reunited in 2006 lacked something. It had both of the founding brothers, as well as drummer Ronaldo Leme (“Dinho”), but lacked sultry singer Rita Lee and bassist Arnolpho Lima Filho (“Liminha”).
We were not among those purists. Sure, today’s Os Mutantes is not the LSD-laced clown circus of the rock world. It’s not the wild and crazy group of yore. But we were thrilled to see the band in any configuration, and the brothers were, after all, its artistic heart, soul and songwriting team.
Since then, Os Mutantes has continued to go through personnel changes. The band that went onstage at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, N.J., on Friday, June 28, (and the band that played the Solid Sound Festival just five days earlier) was back to the 1978 model: with Sérgio the only original member standing.
We enjoyed the newest incarnation of Os Mutantes at Solid Sound. But we weren’t wowed by them. The new songs from the album Fool Metal Jack are written mostly in English with a heavy dose of rather trite anti-American sentiment (c’mon, Sérgio, did we treat you that badly when you lived here all those years?). And they pale in comparison to the band’s best Tropicália-imflected material from the old days. But the band put them over, along with a raft of the hits, in spirited fashion. Still, they didn’t quite click for us the way it did at the beginning of the reunion.
We left wondering if we really needed to see them again so soon at Maxwell’s. But given the club’s impending closure, we decided to suck it up and go to see them.
We’re glad we didn’t give up. Os Mutantes put on an even better show at Maxwell’s, one that really clicked for us. The new material still seems weak, but it was a bit more relatable in the confines of the venerated Hoboken music room. And the old songs sounded fresh and exciting, especially when sung by Esmeria Bulgari. And the New York-based drummer, Ani Cordero, is spectacular.
Yes, Sérgio made a lame comment about loving New Jersey because he loves Springsteen. And he his sitar solo seemed a bit too calculated. (At least at Maxwell’s he didn’t invoke the name of Ravi Shankar, from whom he apparently took sitar lessons.)
But the band did make some magic on that tiny stage. We’re glad we were there. And we’re glad that Os Mutantes endures, even as a somewhat pale version of itself.