CD Review of Live at the Barbican, London, 2006 by Os Mutantes
Recommended if you like
Revolver-era Beatles,
Strawberry Alarm Clock, Them
Label
Luaka Bop
Os Mutantes:
Live at the Barbican,
London, 2006

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD

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T
he making of the album is much more entertaining than the album itself – which is pretty good to start with: Despite not playing together for 30 years, Os Mutantes overcame mental health issues, family discord, political strife in their at-the-time engulfed-in-revolution homeland of Brazil, and what the heck, old age to come together for a celebratory reunion in England last year. Why should anyone care? Why, anyone who’s delved into the garage rock-psychedelic Nuggets culture has at least heard of Mutantes, the Beatles of Brazil. The band’s legend has made fans out of musicians disparate as David Byre and Kurt Cobain, as well as anyone that has an ear for funky, Revolver-era pop harmonies set to extremely catchy Brazilian beats.

So here we are in 2007 to debate the merits of the new record, not "Bat Macumba" and Minha Menina," the band’s most famous hits from the 1960s – but suffice it to say, those two cuts are the "big finish" at the end of the second disc, and they do not disappoint. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably at least a little interested in the group and its oeuvre, and you’ve got some questions: First, what’s the sound like? Os Mutantes were famous for creating their own jury-rigged effects because it was hard to lay hands on an Electro-Hamonix Big Muff Pi fuzz pedal after the junta took over the Brazilian postal system. So flash forward to 2006--what happens if they’re given the full range of today’s tech? The answer is, simply, magic. The harmonies (provided by Zelia Duncan, subbing for original vocalist Rita Lee, who didn’t reunite with the band), are clear and beautiful, not strained with the decades that have flowed under the bridge and the years of exile from Brazil. After all the trials and tribulations, including eldest Mutante and keyboard player Arnaldo Baptista’s nervous breakdowns – one of which ended in a six-week coma back in 1981 – the band somehow managed to dust off the old tunes and play them with an abandon that we can only imagine was heard back in the band’s salad days of 1968.

SThe songs, too, survived the years better than many other psychedelic artifacts. The poignant melody of "Virginia" could be covered by John Mayer or Wilco and it would sound as fresh as it was when Mutantes first laid it down. Politically, the band hasn’t turned into a happy-crappy world-beat act, either: They don’t  hesitate to take rips at Tony Blair and George Bush from the stage – which is no small feat, considering their original political commentary forced them to take refuge in Europe. They bring the rock, they bring the samba, they bring the harmonies. But most of all, Os Mutantes stand as reminders that the 1960s weren’t all the Beatles, Stones, Who, Doors, and Hendrix. Great rock – just as great – was happening elsewhere in the world (just listen to "A Hora e a Vez do Cabelo Nascer" – this song’s heavy, Deep Purple groove makes Cream sound like a bunch of babies), and shame on you if you didn’t catch this vibe the first time around. Make that double if you miss it this time.

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