As much as I want to see the bands that have shaped my tastes reunite, I’ve begun to approach said shows without much hope—more with ambivalence, questioning whether or not this is all necessary. Faust and Os Mutantes are both one of a kind. Both are arguably two of the more revolutionary bands in rock’s history. the former were the first to “deconstruct” the traditions of rock records, using samples and engaging in an absurdist form of prog-laden insdustrial noise, and the latter gave birth to Tropicalia, a sun-soaked psychedelia that served as both political counter and the pulse of a rising Brazilian musical identity.
Figuring that few have even seen either band in their “prime,” my expectations were low. At both shows it was well known that “hits,” that is, songs recorded almost 40 years ago, would be play. But in the words of Faust’s current ringleader, Jean-Herve Peron, “We don’t want you to think we don’t have fresh ideas.” So in both cases, new material was on display. For Faust it was in the form of lengthy improvisational jams, as free and nebulous as one could expect from a group that began and existed as more or less a concept, never truly revealing a primary songwriter, or for that matter, a voice. When it came time to unravel the past, songs like “Sad Skinhead” and “Jennifer” became traditional, re-interpreted as reggae-folk and Gallic ballads. For original members Peron and drummer Zappi Diermaier, Faust has always remained active, and dipping into their past was a welcomed treat, even if it stripped away the mystery and veered from the cosmic Kraut morass of that heady era. To hear those songs performed fulfilled some serious longing. Still, with cement mixers, electric sanders on sheet metal and multi-instrumentalist Geraldine Swayne painting in real time, it didn’t quite live up to the mythology of Faust. Age unfortunately didn’t aid in those fresh ideas.
For Os Mutantes, Sergio Dias Baptista, the only original Mutant on this tour, the fountain of youth must be right around the block. The band, an assemblage of competent Brazilian players, shoehorned the oddball samba and equatorial psych of Haih or Amortecedor into a seamless set of classics. Baptista, clad in an all white robe, said he owed the world an album if they were to tour again and if the audience disapproved of the surprisingly solid new tunes, they could “come to the stage” to slap him. No need, in context the latest incarnation of Os Mutantes was actually livelier, with more twists and turns and opportunities for Baptista to improvise within the overtly joyous show. Here it was the theatrics that tuned me out. Couple the Capitol Theater’s sterile environment with the toned down fuzz that was usually the hallmark of songs like “A Minha Menina” and “El Justiceiro” and it began to feel like a Portuguese production of Hair. Not to discredit Bia Mendes, as I’ve never witnessed Rita Lee live, but her Xuxa as a streetwalker get-up and forced enthusiasm only added to the schmaltz. But that’s part of the act—this was more a celebration, a production of the Os Mutantes legacy than some aging hippie reunion. When she questioned the crowd whether she should sing the universally adored “Baby” in English or her native tongue, there was no debate. Just to hear this perfect song emitting from a stage, played by its composer, was enough to justify a pricey ticket and dealing with the theater’s overzealous ushers.