The self-titled debut of rising Brazilian singer CéU (Six Degrees/Starbucks Entertainment) is flirty and effervescent, a casually whispered invitation to an exotic party. But only a few people were tempted to attend her Halloween show at the El Rey; the club, only at about one-third of capacity, felt more like a haunted house than a costumed Carnivale.
CéU and her five-piece band kept up appearances, smiling their way though an hourlong set. The two percussionists engaged in a chattering conversation while clipped electric piano chords and elastic bass lines added melody and a DJ scratched out a counter-rhythm. CéU’s dusky voice skips across, but she hit the beats with the harder emphasis of a rapper.
Like Catano Veloso and Gal Costa before her, CéU refreshes classic Brazilian sounds with smart borrowings: There’s a humid take on Bob Marley’s “Concrete Jungle,” touches of Fela Kuti’s afrobeat can be heard during “Rainha,” and lanky rhythms of “Lenda” lean toward “Speaking In Tongues”-era Talking Heads. But as the show continued, the aud’s polite but unenthusiastic response leeched the energy out of the perf; not even the lively “Samba Na Sola” could get a rise of out the aud or the musicians.