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Review: Os Mutantes at White Rabbit Cabaret

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Os Mutantes
White Rabbit Cabaret
Sunday, December 2

Rock music is a wonderfully strange beast. It's one of America's greatest exports to a world that has, for the most part, embraced it with gusto. Yet in this country, where the music was born, scant attention is paid to anyone who picks up a guitar or sings a song in a language other than English. How else to account for the lack of recognition accorded here to Brazilian band Os Mutantes and its visionary leader, Sergio Dias?

The Mutants, as an English-only speaker might call them, were formed by Dias, his brother Arnaldo Baptista and Rita Lee in 1968. The band was like a wishbone joining two powerful streams: the Brazilian cultural revolution called Tropicalia and the drug-induced international phenomenon known as psychedelia. Throw in liberal doses of Pop art irony, circus spectacle, and bossa nova's sensuality and you can begin to imagine Os Mutantes' heady sonic potion.

The band's history is too convoluted to address here. Let it suffice to say that, over 40 years later, founding member Dias is still at it; writing original, mind-bending songs and leading a band that is at once loose-limbed and tight. He also plays an eyebrow-burning guitar.

Sunday night's performance at White Rabbit in Fountain Square, presented by Cultural Cannibals, aka Artur Silva and DJ Kyle Long -- this city's own version of Tropicalia -- was a privilege. For those 100 or so people who got the memo and showed up, it amounted to a private party with a music legend whose brilliance is easily on a par with the likes of Jagger, Townshend or Brian Wilson, to name but a few of Dias' peers in the (English-speaking) rock aristocracy. Except that Dias is still making it new.

From the start -- despite an occasionally tetchy sound board --Os Mutantes sounded like, well Os Mutantes. Which is to say, no other band on earth. Their songs can sometimes unfold like stream-of-consciousness assemblages of musical ideas, one-liners and bits of overheard conversation. It can seem, for a moment, as if the band is all over the place and on the verge of losing the centrifugal pull of structure. Then, in an instant, everyone is back in a single, propulsive groove and you realize that smile on your face is the direct result of having just been taken someplace you've never been before. What a blast. May Os Mutantes' reign continue -- in whatever language they choose.

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