Call it a backwards faith—though I have very little evidence to support my cause, I can’t shake my belief that reunion shows never quite live up to the hype, nor deliver as enjoyable an experience as one might hope. I have witnessed The Pixies’ return at Coachella, Mission of Burma’s performance at All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2003, Gang of Four’s return a few years back, and even Bauhaus’ second go around at a `resurrection.’ And they were all among the most memorable shows I can remember. And yet, I can’t help but remain skeptical when I hear of another band’s return after long periods of inactivity or lackluster solo projects. Maybe it has something to do with Guns `n’ Roses’ baffling VMA performance, or the fact that so many reunions yield lousy studio albums, but I can’t shake this gut feeling.
The primary problem, truthfully, is that there are a lot of reunions I just simply don’t care about, Smashing Pumpkins providing a good recent example. When Os Mutantes came together for the first time in more than 30 years, however, I seriously considered dropping any plans I might have had to see them in LA. Still, I didn’t muster up the motivation to see them, which was an immense mistake on my part. Aside from the fact that this was most certainly a once in a lifetime event, there is evidence on their new live album, Mutantes Live, to suggest that it could have been one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, but didn’t.
Recorded at their first reunion show in London in 2006, Mutantes Live showcases what can happen when a band comes together to give the performance of a lifetime. Having been apart for more than 30 years, and without the teenage energy that spawned their initial creations, Os Mutantes don’t miss a beat on this incredible set. Spanning two discs (one would hope a reunion show would last more than an hour), Mutantes Live finds the band offering up tracks from throughout their career. Sergio and Arnaldo Dias Baptista, without original third member Rita Lee, sound as joyous and powerful as ever, not to mention tight instrumentally, which, of course, makes the whole thing all the more impressive.
It’s clear that, from the get go, Os Mutantes had set out to make the best sounding live album they possibly could, and Mutantes Live is as crisp as they come. While the sound of the crowd introducing “Don Quixote” presents the evidence of the album as a live document, the sound quality is vibrant and unmuddled. Though not every song could necessarily pass for a studio track, many of them easily could go undetected as live tracks. The first disc finds the band pulling from later albums, offering tracks like “El Justiciero” and “Tecnicolor,” while revisiting classics like “Ave Genghis Khan” and “Baby,” which sounds a bit lazier, a bit sloppier, but still as classic and beautiful as ever.
Disc two is, naturally, made up of more of the group’s best known songs, which makes perfect sense given it’s the second half of the show. The Brazilian brothers get funky on “I Feel A Little Spaced Out (Ando Meio Desligado)” while banging out their psychedelic samba on “A Minha Menina,” which is audibly a crowd pleaser. If I was there (which I likely wouldn’t have been—this show was in London mind you), I would have been seriously losing my shit, dear readers. Ah, but it gets better, Noah Georgeson and Devendra Banhart join the band on an encore performance of “Bat Macumba,” one of their simplest, but best known songs. Os Mutantes close the set with “Panis Et Circensis,” sung in English, majestic and buoyant, and epic to boot.
I wasn’t at this show, nor was I at the one in LA, and I didn’t go to Pitchfork Fest, so my inability to see this first hand still stings a little. But I think I’ll manage. This live recording is easily the best sounding of its kind that I’ve heard in a long, long time. And you know, it sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.
Os Mutantes – Os Mutantes
Caetano Veloso – Live in Bahia
Gilberto Gil – Quanta Live
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.