Tom Zé in London

First published on LiveJournal - 20/06/10 
This piece in its original form appeared on the old GRIDLER website in 2001. I re-posted it on LiveJournal when I (nearly) had the opportunity to see Tom Zé live again. Then that fell through...

This week, I was delighted to learn that one of my all-time musical heroes, TOM ZÉ is to play in London this coming summer! Tom will be appearing in a double header with tropicalia pioneers OS MUTANTES at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 18th July, as part of the South Bank Centre's "FESTIVAL BRAZIL" season. STOP PRESS - 20th June 2010... Tom's appearance at the Royal Festival Hall in July has now been cancelled. I just got this email from the Southbank people: "Thank you for booking for the above event. I am writing to let you know that due to unforeseen circumstances Tom Zé is not available to travel to the UK for Festival Brazil. We apologise for any disappointment this may cause. We look forward to welcoming you to what still promises to be a great evening. However, if you do not wish to attend we will be able refund your ticket(s)..."

Well yes, I am disappointed and no, I don't wish to travel all that way on a Sunday just to see Os Mutantes, whatever their relative merits. I had been planning to follow up this article with a review of the gig on these very pages, but now it is not to be...

However... This seems like an opportune moment to revisit and repost this webdiarypage 'wot I wrote' on the occasion of Tom's gig at London's Barbican with TORTOISE on the 9th April 2001. [Yes, that's right folks! I WAS churning out this kind of drivel in the days before 'blogs' were even CALLED 'blogs'! ...I think, for the purposes of this exercise, we'll skip over all the guff about afternoon shopping for Okinawan CDs, or my Prince Charles-like complaining about the architecture at the Barbican complex, and cut straight to the chase, shall we? Grab your Portuguese dictionary from the bookshelf and here we go!]

TOM ZÉ - The original Brazil nut and an obvious influence on arch-quirkster David Byrne, on whose Luaka Bop label his product currently resides. Hard to believe he's well into his sixties! Even if Portuguese is not one of your languages, the music speaks for itself. (Who needs to understand the lyrics? Gridling is the Omniversal Lingua Franca du Jour... Pretentious Ed)

On first listening, this may sound like yer standard Brazilian easy-listening bossa-nova samba stylings, but all sorts of weird stuff lurks just below the surface - power tools, toy and home-made instruments, squeaking balloons, shaving-brush style guitar (and mad guitar-mangler Arto Lindsay has been featured) – it’s all there!
...And now he's joined up with Chicago-based eclectics Tortoise for some concerts - Tortoise man John McEntire having earlier provided a superb remix of one of his "Defect" songs. What further excuse does our Golden Banana correspondent need to zoom up to 'dzat Loondin' to see the show?!


TORTOISE FANS BEWARE! Let’s make it perfectly clear from the start, this was to be a Tom Zé concert – anyone who turned up expecting a Tortoise gig (and there was a vociferous few), would have to content themselves with one extended number in the second half. I, however, was not of that ilk.

CONCENTRATE HARD, FOR THE WORDS ARE THE KEY... Now pay close attention, for I shall be using LANGUAGE! Tom Zé speaks Portuguese and only a rudimentary form of English, so he slogged his little heart out to make himself understood between numbers. His lyrics are heavy on word play and he uses language that is rich in sound if not in meaning. I shall be mentioning the names of tunes from this point on, but I will make no attempt to translate them for you. Grab a Portuguese dictionary and find out the meaning (if any) for yourself. This, to me, is all part of the fun of enjoying this so-called ‘World music' lark. You go fig’it out!

THE FIRST HALF kicked off with ‘Nave Maria’ and it was immediately apparent that Tom and the Tortoises were not going to concern themselves with merely recreating the studio versions of his/their ‘greatest hits’ on stage. ‘Curiosidade’ followed – aha! could it be that the way to recreate that peculiar sound rather like a heavily flanged double-speed guitar that is something of a Zé trademark, is to have two people play mandolins in unison but tuned a quartertone apart? Tom leapt about making apelike sounds and gestures throughout this fine piece (he’s sixty-four you know…) He attempted to get an audience participation routine going during ‘Ogodo’ (presumably now subtitled ‘Ano 2001’?), explaining that the words to be chanted were neither Portuguese OR English! A song about ‘Meninas’ featured Tom doing rude things with plastic bottles down his clothing. Next came a particular favourite of mine, ‘Um “Oh!” E Um “Ah!”’, with strangely syncopated vocalising from the assembled cast. ‘Cademar’ was quickly followed by ‘Jingle Do Disco’: Tom asked us to imagine that the piece of paper he was holding was the CD being advertised and he made a point about the American mispronunciation of his surname. ‘Olho Do Lago’ opened and closed with a display of harmonious gargling and much intricate percussive interplay. The infuriatingly catchy ‘Esteticar’ had the entire band shaking various items of shopping and an interesting effect involving a ‘pacifier’ rubbed against the microphone. ‘Feira De Santana’ no longer sounded like the minimal ‘nothing but percussion’ arrangement of the original recording – there were some very ‘Tortoise’ moments instead! Apparently council regulations forbid the use of hammered anvils or air-raid sirens - hmm... does that mean that the music of Edgard Varèse never gets played at the Barbican? The first set ended with a radical reworking of ‘Augusta, Angélica E Consolação’. Tom insisted, in his own inimitable way, that we all go and get some refreshments. I went off to buy a copy of the man's new (Brazil-only?) CD, 'Jogos De Armar', which comes with a bonus disk of deconstructions and samples allowing those inclined to remix the songs for themselves... blimey! do they know what they're letting themselves in for?!

THE SECOND HALF... Tom returned to the stage, accompanied by the Brazilian contingent of the group, for a set of three ‘unplugged’ numbers, which may (or may not) have been ‘The Letter’, ‘O Pib Da Pib (Prostituar)’ and ‘Brigitte Bardot’. He has a unique approach to the acoustic guitar, I don’t mind telling you! The Tortoise chaps then got to play on THEIR own: what sounded like an improvised section led into ‘Speakeasy’ from their latest platter. I was intrigued to hear how their music, which is so much a product of the ‘home studio’, could be carried off live on stage and I was suitably impressed. Mind you, I don’t think I could be bothered with a whole evening of this type of thing – they don’t exactly DO much, do they? …Music for listening to, rather than looking at, methinks…

There then followed a strangely satirical montage of ‘Rock’ clichés (including ‘Smoke On The Water’ and a Hendrix riff or two!) that may have been based on ‘Jimi Renda-Se’ and/or ‘Chemega Quatro’ from the new Zé disc. ‘Politicar’ featured Tom gradually removing the shirt from his back (piece by piece – this was a oddly contrived garment held together with Velcro!) The Tortoise boys put an interesting spin on that weird stop-start riff that is a feature of the studio version. Tom Zé and Jarbas Mariz donned colour-coordinated hardhats, plastic jackets and rubber gloves for a fantastic routine where they used each other as percussion sets… Another ‘theatrical’ moment involved the group tearing up newspaper in a rhythmic fashion… this led into a storming (and almost unrecognisable) version of ‘Gène’ to close the set. An ‘unplugged’ encore, (and a request for,) ‘Made In Brazil’ ended the evening (for me, anyway… there may have been further encores, but I had to rush off to catch a tube to Victoria and the last bus home!) No doubt that esteemed pamphlet THE WIRE will cover this event in depth (No! They didn't even mention it - so that's a scoop for The Gridler then! ... Ed), and will explore the post-rock post-modern implications of it all… but bugger that! I had FUN!

The musicians involved, if I remember correctly, played the following instruments (and anything else that came to hand): Tom Zé: vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion (including ‘pacifier’, hardhat, newspapers, but not anvil or air-raid siren) - Sérgio Caetano: guitars, bandolin, vocals, percussion (including shaken supermarket food items) - Jarbas Mariz: acoustic guitar, bandolin, vocals, percussion (including hardhat, newspapers and supermarket food items picked up and shaken) - Doug McCombs: bass guitar, percussion (including shaken items from local supermarket and matchboxes) - John McEntire: drums, percussion (including food items from a popular supermarket chain played in a rhythmical manner and matchboxes) - Dan Fliegel: percussion (including tambourine, shakers and that big Brazilian bass/side-drum, the name of which escapes me at the moment) - Jeff Parker: electric guitars, percussion (including conveniently packed food items) - Dan Bitney: piano, vibes, percussion (including tambourine and shakers) - John Herndon: also (I don’t know which is which; these Tortoises all look the same to me...) on piano, vibes, percussion (including tambourine, shakers and big bass drum).

I'm pleased to report that the [new] album, "Jogos De Armar" carries on where "Defects" left off... Lots of really quirky riddims and 'noises off', nutty non-lyrics, much use of that trademark mandolin sound and... hooray! the return of Tom's 'Sampler Brasileiro', a device consisting of various domestic implements (power tools, food mixers, bells 'n' hooters of various kinds) mounted in wooden boxes and triggered by a key pad! - A wondrous beast that would probably contravene various council regulations, should he ever figure out how to take it on the road! (It is recommended that you try to find a copy of this prized disc today - Look for the one that has the Portuguese for "This Is Not A Double CD" on the front!)

(original posting: April 2001)
Review of this gig on Yahoo Music - http://uk.launch.yahoo.com/l_reviews_l/19203.html
Visit http://www.luakabop.com/directory/album_pages for loads of info on Tom and other Luaka Bop artistes (and the best ‘ethnic’-looking website I’ve ever seen).
Tom has his own nice looking site at www.tomze.com.br... it's in Portuguese!

Tom Zé MySpace - www.myspace.com/tomzefrombrazil
Tom Zé Wikipedia article - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Zé
Tom Zé discography - www.slipcue.com/music/brazil/tomze.html

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