GILBERTO GIL at Massey Hall, Monday, November 19. Rating: NNNNN
Playing in Gilberto Gil's band has got to be a percussionist's dream gig. The Brazilian music giant had two in his seven-piece band, and their smiles never faltered as they banged out unbelievably groovy and propulsive polyrhythms on triangles, bongos, snare drums and myriad other bang-able instruments. Add in a bassist, fiddler, accordionist and lead guitarist, and 70-year-old Gil's delicate and influential guitar work was frequently overpowered.
That said, his voice, stage presence and highly original northeastern Brazilian blend of samba, bossa nova, reggae, Tropicalia and even touches of Celtic more than captivated. It's music "with a lot of pulse," explained the former Brazilian minister of culture, who paused now and then to give us Bahia music history lessons, a graceful and well-spoken figure in a casual white t-shirt, jeans and runners.
It was unexpected, then, when halfway through the two-hour set he began to seriously cut loose, dancing goofily across the stage with his guitar. His singing got experimental, calling and responding to guitar leads and giving way to something louder and more primal. At the ends of tunes, his voice dipped impossibly low but also, and even more thrilling, Michael Jackson-high - a tuneful shriek that cut through the sonic busy-ness.
The ladies got on their feet, and then eventually everybody else did, too. We danced and swayed and clapped, knowing that this was the feel-good concert of the year.