Over the years, I’ve seen many an act try and fail to get folks up out of their seats at the Somerville (wild arm-flapping middle-aged Vieux Farka Toure enthusiast guy, you will forever dance like a crazy person in my heart). On Sunday night, all Os Mutantes had to do was play the opening notes of Jorge Ben’s “A Minha Menina” and we all spilled into the aisles like a flash flood.
Not that Brooklyn’s DeLeon didn’t try with their opening slot. They really did. The four-piece—normally a quintet, but short their drummer due to the dominant gearscape of the Mutantes—delivered as rapturous a set of rejuventated Sephardi pop (or “15th century Spanish indie rock)”) as you could ask for; but relegating drummer Justin Riddle to both a.) a laptop next to bassist Kevin Snider, and b.) the row just behind us (from where he’d counted off a song and chirped little interband zingers) didn’t do them any favors. Riddle plays a mean space-bar, but the pre-recorded rhythms were rough, loud and a little clumsy—I wouldn’t want them moving my delicate antiques around.
Still, their material is hard to resist, and their surplus of presence largely makes up for their occasional absence: Singer Dan Saks dug deep into his banjo (somehow making it sound sensual) and stomped his leg with was wrapped in a leather strap studded with bells; co-vocalist Amy Crawford deftly typed out ghostly figures on a glockenspiel and touched the ceiling of the theater a few times with her airy, aerial voice. But even at their most frenetic, even as you heard the bolts in the seats squeaking under a spreading trend of chair-dancing, no one rose—and perhaps it was the respect shown by the band for their form that gave the set an air of homage instead of the heat of a throwdown.
Sérgio Dias Baptista’s Os Mutantes have always taken a different approach to respecting tradition: adopting it as their own and then fucking it up royally, smoking it up and taking it on joyrides. It took just 10 turbulent years for them to produce as many of the most influential and cruelly under-distributed albums in freaky pop history. Over the subsequent 35 years of relative silence (but for sporadic reissues and word of mouth transmissions), their music slowly pushed its way through the thick blanket of mainstream world music the way a splinter is rejected by the body. Now, reunited and touring with a very young band and an album’s worth of new songs (the Anti- issued Haih Or Amortecedor), Dias is taking this reunion as seriously as he’s capable of—which is, thankfully, just barely enough.
A wide, goofy smile split his head through most of the show; an effect that had the entire theatre under his spell (though his black and gold robe may have played a part). Flanked by six others, including new vocalist Bia Mendes, former Mutante drummer Ronaldo “Dinho” Leme, and a fresh-faced rhythm section, Dias assured the audience that they’d do their best, and that he expected his audience to do the same. That, and the aforementioned opening notes, were all it took to turn the Somerville into a full-fledged, spill-your-drink, stow-your-tote-bag dance party.