Carnival is kicking off on Friday, and those of us in the eastern United States who can only dream of shaking our hips in Rio have a pretty nice consolation prize: the Tropicalia psych-rockers Os Mutantes are in America.
It’s just a little mini-tour—Minneapolis last Tuesday, Philadelphia’s Trocodero Theatre on Sunday, New York’s Webster Hall on Monday, Richmond, VA’s Capital Ale House Music Hall—but even with the Mutantes touring America somewhat frequently since reuniting in 2006, it’s still worth pointing out, because they’re really not to be missed.
Sérgio Dias, his brother Arnaldo Baptista, and star-in-the-making Rita Lee formed the band in 1965 in Sao Paulo. Their music was a psychedelic mixture of bossa nova, British Invasion, American rock, samba schools, and Batman comics. It was sometimes playful, sometimes politically cutting, and sometimes both at the same time. Songwriter Caetano Veloso remembers the first impression Os Mutantes made when they met their spiritual kin, the rest of the Tropicalia movement: “They’re still kids, and they know everything…It can’t be true!”
The band became one of the giants of the movement. Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Jorge Ben contributed tunes to the young band for their first album, and Tom Zé chipped in on the second. As the ’60s gave way to the ’70s, a military junta took power in Brazil, leading to Veloso and Gil’s exile to London and the Mutantes moving away from their sonic alchemy to a more straight-forward prog rock.
Like many bands, they were split up by internal strife. Arnaldo and Rita Lee’s romantic relationship broke down, and with it went the band, who split for solo careers after 1972. Lee started an extremely successful solo career. Arnaldo recorded under his own name, and Sergio recorded under the Mutantes name for another few albums, until laying the band to rest after 1978.
Absence made the heart grow fonder, however, and Os Mutantes developed a cult following that eventually brought them back from retirement. Lee declined to participate but publicly supported the Dias brothers and their group of new musicians, who have released a pair of fun albums and periodically toured, much to the delight of their growing American fan base. Often playing alongside bands whose members were born after the Mutantes broke up the first time, the revived Os Mutantes and their fresh crop of musicians remain vital.
If you’re in Philly, New York, or Richmond, you know what to do.