Review: Milton Nascimento at the Barbican

Milton Nascimento lets the audience sing Canção da América
Barbican, October 2013. Photo credit: Roger Thomas. All Rights Reserved

Milton Nascimento
(Barbican Hall. October 20th 2013. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

“This record is my childhood.” That fine, instinctive, soft-spoken London-based Brazilian musician Gui Tavares, whom I happened to meet before the concert at the Barbican last night, showed me the copy of the powerful 1972 LP Clube de Esquina that he had grown up with, which he had brought along to the concert, and was holding close to him. Like so many Brazilians in the audience last night, he was there to bring reverence to one of his musical idols. I thought of him later when the restless acoustic guitar chords of Cravo É Canela from that album started up. It was a moment of intense and personal connection through music, which multiplied itself hundreds of times through the hall. People were not so much cheering as roaring.

Nascimento was in London last night to celebrate 50 years in music, and again and again he was greeted as hero. After he’d asked if there might happen to be a few compatriots in the audience, the loud and enthusiastic response made him answer his own question with a smile, and a slightly surprised comment: “More than I think.” He then took that opportunity to sit back on a comfortable stool, to hold the microphone out towards the audience, to lend us his band so that the Brazilians among us could sing Canção da América.

The Brazilians – of all ages – loved it. What was in it for the rest of us? There was a fine,slick band completely at one with the Nascimento songbook, knowing, feeling its subtle shifts and moods, of Nascimento’s open-hearted, spiritual, poetic songs . They were all highly impressive: Wilson Lopes (guitar), Lincoln Cheib (drums), Gastão Villeroy (electric bass), Kiko Continentino (piano) and Widor Santiago (saxophones).

For the neutral observer, the evening did have some drawbacks, though. I’ve often had the heretical thought that while Nascimento’s songs stay in the mind, it has often been with other vocalists such as Elis Regina or Fafa de Belem that they get conveyed more powerfully. And as Nascimento’s voice becomes more wayward in pitch, it was certainly a relief to hear his son Pablo‘s (?) voice ringing absolutely true in a one-number guest slot, definitely a highlight of the evening. And the sound where I sat was often muddy and indistinct. The numerous staff on-stage kept handing Nascimento an increasingly out-of-tune guitar. But none of that seemed to detract from the enjoyment of those who were overwhelmed and overjoyed to be in the presence of their icon.

A ceremony rounded off to slightly surreal close as Milton Nascimento was awarded the title of Vice Président d’Honneur of the  Divine Académie Française des Arts Lettres et Culture, and swore a curious oath in Portuguese to defend culture. There was also talk of a new album.

The support slot in the hall was by punk-leaning folk-rocker Sergio Veloso, known as Siba, who was there to support the release of his new album Avante. Many, me included, also enjoyed the infectiously rhythmic sounds of a highly impressive percussion section in the platform performance by saxophonist Letieres Leite‘s quintet, which was getting people up and dancing.

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