Caetano Veloso’s voice breaks cement and hearts. Last night at the Hollywood Bowl, the Brazilian legend sang one of his oldest compositions, “Baby” (written with and made famous by Os Mutantes), in the tender falsetto and multisyllabic lilt that’s uniquely his. He can also rap, play some mean rock guitar , and do elegant gestures with his long dancer hands that end with a middle finger raised — pretty badass for a septuagenarian. I’ve been a huge fan since my Puerto Rican boyfriend made a video about me set to the song “Branquinha,” and I fell in love with that 1989 album, Estrangeiro. Like Springsteen, Veloso’s an artist aging not just gracefully but pointedly — his voice more supple, his material more risky. He’s a romantic and a rebel, who in the 1960s got jailed AND exiled for his music. Not even Pussy Riot can claim that.
Too bad much of the lame-o LA crowd suffered through Andrew
Bland Bird then began exiting halfway through Caetano’s set. This is history people: One of the greatest musicians of our time — singer of postcolonial protest love songs about tropical truths — in one of the world’s greatest venues; stop worrying about traffic for once. I do wish KCRW and the Bowl hadn’t stacked the bill and made us wait so long for the headliner. Devendra Banhart was funny and weird and sometimes charming and sometimes annoying and has a beautiful voice when he just sings. His Spanish songs sounded somewhat unnervingly tropicalia-esque, but at least he chooses great role models. It was a trilingual night under the stars. Viva Veloso!
Is anti-music Puritanism part of the backbone of the U.S.? Can a sound alone be an agent of change? Do public radio stations such as KCRW really serve the whole public? Can popular culture still change the world?
These are some of the questions Occidental College professors Thaddeus Russell and James Ford, KCRW music director Jason Bentley, and myself addressed last night at a panel sponsored by Oxy and Zocalo Public Square. It was a pretty wide ranging and thoughtful discussion of a topic I feared beforehand had been beat to death. Check out Zocalo’s site for video, podcast, photos, and even some text.
Regina Spektor by Larry Hirshowitz
Regina Spektor vocalizes heartache, and not just of the girl-loses-boy kind. Last night, at the taping of a session for KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic show, the postmodern Edith Piaf sang about death, loss, the streets of New York, museum paintings, and Paris in the rain in her inimitable throb, before a select crowd of 200, including Spiderman (Andrew Garfield). After the nine-song set, she discussed with KCRW music director Anne Litt the deep roots of her bittersweet songs. Twenty-three years ago Spektor emigrated to New York from the Soviet Union with her family.
“You’re a rarity,” she said of her constant awareness of her Russian Jewish roots. “You get to live. You never know when they’re going to pogrom you.”
Spektor seemed safe but hot and nervous in the packed swelter of Apogee’s Berkeley Street studio in Santa Monica. “This is a new genre; it’s intimate with strangers,” she joked. She sipped water obsessively in between gorgeous takes of songs including “Firewood” and “Ode to Divorce.” The session, which will air Sept. 25, took place on the eve of KCRW’s summer pledge drive.
The singer/songwriter talked about her decades of classical piano lessons with a fellow East European immigrant her father befriended on the subway. She demonstrated the considerable depth of her talent, the kind of longterm legs we associate with jazz singers, not indie-rock songstresses. Spektor sings with the clear tone and sure rhythmic footing of an Ella Fitzgerald, and vulnerability of Billie Holiday. She flirts with beat-boxing and could probably do a mean scat. And she has a talent for pregnant analogies: “You’re like a big parade through town/ You leave a mess but you’re so fun,” she sang in “The Party.” It took her two takes to get that song right, but right she got it.