Gilberto grows

BEBEL GILBERTO at the Phoenix, November 23. Tickets: $25. Attendance: 700. Rating: NNNit's no wonder that bebelGilberto's sleek Tanto Tempo.

BEBEL GILBERTO at the Phoenix, November 23. Tickets: $25. Attendance: 700. Rating: NNN

it’s no wonder that bebelGilberto’s sleek Tanto Tempo disc became last summer’s ambience-setter of choice for club and cafe owners everywhere.Cool and casual, the Brazilian crooner’s debut is about as unobtrusive a record as you could imagine, and settles nicely beneath chatter and clinking glasses. It does not, however, lend itself to captivating live performances.

Despite the gorgeous setting, last summer’s very pretty Gilberto gig at the waterfront Brigantine Room was utterly devoid of fireworks or passion. At least it was intimate, though. In close confines, Gilberto’s soft purr managed to hold the audience’s attention and create a palpable vibe in the room.

At her Phoenix return Thursday, many in the crowd treated Gilberto as they do her CD ­– as background entertainment. They chatted away happily while she and her four-piece band strummed through their breezy bossa nova. Despite her sultry dancing, annoying hand gestures and stale between-song banter, Gilberto lacks the presence to fill a room that size.

Thursday’s gig was better than her debut, at least in terms of the material performed. Gilberto seems much more comfortable with her own songs, willing to experiment occasionally and to add some much-needed ballast to her performance.

Sem Conten&ccircão thumped more like its recent house remix than the dreamy album version. Although a new, droning Middle Eastern-themed tune with an om chant running through it sounded completely out of character, it turned out to be one of the best things she played all night.

That confidence is promising, and in the right venue, Gilberto could yet be as hypnotic live as she is on disc. Someone give the woman something to do with her hands, though.

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