The tunefulness of the Beatles, a key ingredient in the late 1960s/early ’70s work of Caetano Veloso, continues to play a role in his new songs, but the embellishments come from decades of scruffy punk variations rather than Brazilian tradition. Veloso’s 95-minute show at the Greek was a pared-down rock-centric effort, a show heavily devoted to his recent Nonesuch release “Zii e Zie” and a significant detour from his shows rooted in sambas, bossa nova and the tropicalia style he created with other artists from the Bahia region of Brazil.
Nine of “Zii e Zie’s” 13 tracks made it into Thursday’s set. In general terms, the live performances were more spartan and chiseled than the album, the buoyancy of the recorded versions largely stripped away in favor of a tension-inducing contrast to the supple sweetness of Veloso’s pristine voice. The difference was more in the mix than the arrangements: “A Base de Guantanamo” was enhanced with military rigidity; “Perdeu” was transformed from a bossa twist on Lennon & McCartney’s “Getting Better” to something out of King Crimson’s early catalog. On the challenging “Lobao Tem Razao,” Veloso’s angelic vocals floated above the intersecting rhythms created on guitar and drums to create three lanes of music traveling at different speeds and arriving at the same destination.
Veloso, nearly all gray at 67 and dressed in grandfatherly leisure wear, was animated throughout the night, spinning in circles, hopping and gesturing with story-telling purposefulness. Stateside tours that hit every major market area are a rarity for him — he gets to L.A. maybe every three years or so — and the current trek includes only L.A., New York, San Francisco and Miami, though more dates are likely.
His backing trio of youngsters provide an incendiary element, especially the guitarist Pedro Sa, whose stylistic breadth and command is downright astounding. While Veloso used a futuristic-looking bodiless guitar for about half the songs, Sa delivered whatever else was needed — muscular rock chords on “Irene” and “Lapa,” circular new-wave lines, a splash of South Africa and punk-inspired grit elsewhere.
The pleasant side of Veloso came out in his classic “Maria Bethania,” a solo acoustic medley of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and the chorus of “Eleanor Rigby,” the lone Spanish-language tune “Volver” and the cinematic reggae-tinged “Odeio,” the only song in the set from his previous disc recorded with this band, “Ce.”
Local singer-songwriter AM opened the evening with his quartet, playing the sort of gently swaying folk-rock that was a staple in Veloso’s ’70s work. Stylistically distinct from Veloso, it made for a complementary pairing.