Carlinhos Brown is a Brazilian music icon. A composer, bandleader, percussionist extraordinaire and a living avatar of the eclectic tropicalismo movement, Brown is an unbridled original, a man licensed to do and capable of doing whatever he likes. And that was fully on display during his episodic, two-hour long concert at David Geffen Hall as part of New York’s Lincoln Center Festival on July 15.
Brown first came to renown as a percussionist for Caetano Veloso, and has gone on to compose important songs for Veloso, Marisa Monte, Gal Costa, Maria Bethania and others. The Saturday night show began with a sense of ritual, Brown and his band obscured by a hanging screen graced with abstract projections and glowing light. (He emerged on a kind of wheeled wagon, playing berimbau and chanting.) It ended in full carnival frenzy, the crowd on its feet and boogying to songs made famous by Brown’s all-percussion band, Timbalada.
Between those markers, Brown performed art songs, MPB, some bossa-like ballads and funky hybrid numbers, reggae, a solo acoustic guitar segment, and a number of high-energy percussion-driven ceremonial and celebratory songs. He engaged in frequent theatrics, creating rhythm out of tin buckets that he kicked and crawled among across the stage, and winding up with buckets over his head and hands, like a mystic tin man. Later he emerged as a white-maned spirit figure wielding a basked of blessings and a tall white ceremonial drum.
Throughout the program, Brown and his seven musicians were bathed in moving images that towered above them: leaves falling, enormous waves crashing, tall grasses, sunset in the desert, volcanoes erupting, laundry out to dry, a Tweety Bird cartoon, favela and carnival scenes, rituals unfolding and plenty of long, thin flying dreadlocks—one of Brown’s trademarks.
At one point Brown pulled David Byrne and John Arrucci to the stage to honor them for their work and bless them with that tall white drum. The show had so many moods and colors, coming in such rapid sequence that the overall feeling was a bit choppy. But with a sellout crowd solidly behind him and a seemingly endless parade of spectacle, he commanded rapt attention all night long.
Here are a few images from a spectacular evening with a Brazilian legend.