w/ A Guy Called Gerald
Showbox, Fri Nov 23, $19.50.
When I watched Bebel Gilberto perform songs from her debut CD, Tanto Tempo, two years ago at I-Spy, my mouth produced sugar. My mouth, which is usually the organ of consumption, became a tropical flower whose ducts excreted a sweet substance. I must explain this phenomenon. The performance of Bebel Gilberto--who is the daughter of the world-famous samba musicians João and Miúcha Gilberto--was so erotic that my body was transformed into a passionate plant. I didn't so much dance but was moved tropistically toward the stage, basking, as it were, in the sun of her small body, her solar-system sounds, and her band of handsome men.
Bebel Gilberto is not a knockout. She isn't as voluptuous or as beautiful as her country's name, Brazil. Nor is she the best singer I have ever heard, nor her songs the best ever written. In fact, one song at the end of Tanto Tempo, "Close Your Eyes," is as plastic as anything by Miami Sound Machine. She is not what her parents were. But she is still great. And it's not the greatness of one particular quality that eclipses all of her mediocre qualities, but that she (her being and body) is a welcoming void into which so much beauty pours.
To begin with, all the men Bebel tours with are shameless seducers! The art of seduction--which is the art of the flower or the male peacock--demands serious self-admiration. The seducer wears scarves around his neck, tight leather things with red frills puffing up from the breasts, and his aura is as fragrant as a rare fruit. The seducer always says to the observer, "I look desirable," and this is why seduction is at once arrogant and risky. Arrogant because of the excessive self-love that's needed to pull it off; risky because if the seduction doesn't work, then he looks silly.
On the night of Bebel's show at I-Spy, the most seductive member of her band--a dark, tall, athletic (athletic in the Greek pagan sense and not the American healthy sense) man in his mid-30s--wore a small red shirt which detailed the breastplate-like geography of his chest, with black hot pants and pointy shoes. He did not stop there. He played the sexiest instrument on Earth, the saxophone. And when he wasn't blowing the sax, he was shacking little percussive instruments. If you are going to seduce someone, or an entire audience, then you have to be as arrogant as Bebel's sax player.
Another aspect of Bebel Gilberto is that a considerable part of her CD, Tanto Tempo, was produced by Suba, a Yugoslavian expatriate who moved to São Paulo in the late '80s, and died just over two years ago in an apartment fire. Before his death, Suba produced his own CD, São Paulo Concessions (the best CD of 1999), which electrified the old samba sound into a new digital existence. Suba then electrified Bebel Gilberto, who consistently attracts the best downbeat producers. Her latest CD, Tanto Tempo Remixes, has, for example, remixes by producers like Truby Trio, Peter Kruder, and Ananda Project (whose Release was the best CD of 2000). Bebel has also worked successfully with D.C.'s downbeat masters Thievery Corporation.
Bebel's close association with Suba and other electronica artists has not so much resulted in great music, but has simply infused it, and her persona, with a futuristic feel. Bebel's parents may have been real musicians, but she is a wired android. The opening (and best) song on Tanto Tempo, "Samba da Benção," transports the listener not to the tropical beaches of Rio de Janeiro, but to some sector or vector of the galaxy that her great civilization colonized in 2019. "Samba da Benção" is sung by a hologram for an audience of space-Brazilians, who live in a community of clustered space structures that look like the ultra-modernist buildings of Brasília.
The combination of Bebel's impressive upbringing (even her stepmother, Astrud Gilberto, was a famous singer), her sexy band members, the high-tech producers who service her music, and the whole futuristic quality of her personality and sound, generated the erotic energy which turned my mouth into the head of a flower. My saliva was sun-sweet, and if I had spat on the hard floor of I-Spy, the next day a sweeper would have found on that very spot a small pile of white sugar crystals.