The hipster and indie aud for the Os Mutantes show at the El Rey was much younger then you’d expect to see for a band that broke up in 1978 and recorded its best work nearly a decade earlier. But it made sense by the time the pioneering Brazilian band left the stage after a 90-minute set. Although the songs played were older than most of the aud, Os Mutantes music wouldn’t sound out of place on college radio.
Yes, tunes such as “Ando Meio Desligado” share psychedelic DNA with the Beatles and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, but their bloodline has been kept alive in the music of such contempo acts as Beck, the New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene and the Polyphonic Spree.
At a Os Mutantes concert, a hip shaking pop song such as “A Minha Menina” can suddenly sprout a heavy metal guitar solo, and “El Justiciero” switches from faux-portentous to mock heroic in the space of a bar; the constantly shifting moods and styles and porous song structures –celebrated in the title of the 1999 Luaka Bop compilation “Everything Is Possible,” which helped kickstart the band’s revival — can be hard in the kitchen sink, mix and match sampling of Beck and Broken Social Scene’s expansive anything-goes performances.
Vinicius Junqueira’s nimble bass playing, which moves from fat and propulsive Motown grooves to more melodic, Paul McCartney-styled lines, and the thick, gorgeous tone and cross-genre facility of Sergio Diaz’s guitar, kept the rangy, 10-piece band centered. Only on “Cantor de Mambo” did the sound turn cluttered and ungainly.
But with up to eight singers, Os Mutantes has been remade as something of vocal group; and the varied colors and textures of the harmonies were a consistent pleasure, whether the singers were moaning like horror-movie zombies or raising their voices in sunny, major-key ecstasy. The added singers also take some of the pressure off Zelia Duncan, who replaces original vocalist Rita Lee. In fact, the only time Lee was really missed was during “Baby,” when Duncan’s earthier style was ill matched to the languid arrangement of the Caetano Veloso classic.
In the ’60s, Os Mutantes was the weirdest part of the Tropicalia scene — quite an achievement in a scene that regarded itself as a shock to the system. These days, its members are less outsiders than elder statesmen, but the music, like their aud, is youthful.
The band plays Gotham on Tuesday at the Lincoln Center Festival.