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The indie rock biblical mandate that revived Tropicália icons Os Mutantes 

Os Mutantes’ tour on ‘Fool Metal Jack’ comes to the Social

  • Photo by Clarissa Lambert


7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19 | The Social, 54 N. Orange Ave. | 407-246-1419 | | $20-$25

"It caught me by surprise, in a level I was not prepared, like a punch to the solar plexus.”

Sérgio Dias’ ebullient voice admits he was late to understand the recent impact Os Mutantes had on underground music scenes long after their initial breakup. By the end of 1999, the Brazilians from São Paulo became widely fêted when the reissues of their 1968-70 albums, Os Mutantes, Mutantes and A Divina Comédia ou Ando Meio Desligado, collided with those who rule our Pitchfork-curated world.

But it wasn’t until Dias and brother Arnaldo Baptista reappeared onstage – minus third founder Rita Lee – at London’s Barbican in 2006 that they were able to quantify the visceral impact of Mutantesmania. “I was expecting to do one show and that was it, and they were going to be guys of my age, and arrived there, and it was a bunch of teenagers screaming their lungs out … and after that, it was all kids, always kids.”

They closed the 2006 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. Then Dias understood. “There was this crowd, like 18,000 people, and they’re like screaming, ‘Mutantes, Mutantes, Mutantes,’ and Zélia (Duncan), who was singing at the time, was looking at me with big eyes and just said, ‘Sergio, the voice of the people is the voice of God.’ It was very Ten Commandments.”

With more than a flash of interest from fickle music contrarians, the Brazilians now (with good reason) count the creative class of David Byrne, Beck, Flaming Lips and Of Montreal as adherents. Carrying out an indie-rock biblical mandate, the Dias-led current incarnation made two studio albums since, including 2013’s Fool Metal Jack. A 2014 theatrical release will show Os Mutantes have as compelling a backstory as any late-1960s psychedelic icons.

The three teenagers were assimilated into the two-year Tropicália movement after what amounted to an introduction letter from producer-arranger-composer Rogério Duprat. Duprat became the art gang’s equal to the Beatles’ George Martin by way of Burt Bacharach and Karlheinz Stockhausen, filling a role somewhere between facilitator of outrageous sonic ideas and active contributor. Duprat’s guardianship compelled a brief, distinctive burst of light from artists like Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé and Os Mutantes – all of whom were working on their first or second albums. Along with a zeitgeist Tropicália group album that year, these records approximate the fully formed nature of Revolver-era Beatles or the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle, but without the warm-up of previous studio experience. Dias demystifies the speed and aesthetics of the time with a laugh: “I think it is a matter of being English and being Brazilian. We’re … we’re a little bit more crazier than them.”

The Brazilian government’s free speech-quashing law at the end of 1968 also tolled the bells for the Tropicálists. Dias claims the censorship of their “Dom Quixote” lyrics during a round of a TV contest came from the government. Worse, Veloso and Gil were arrested, leading to a two-and-a-half-year exile in England. The still-young Mutantes were watched and had concerts busted, eventually leading to a 1969 Paris residency. Movement over.

Fool Metal Jack’s lyrics are largely from Dias’ hand, still mixing social messages (the title track recalling Stanley Kubrick) with snapshots of an exuberant life. Like their 1970 Tecnicolor album, it’s in English, sidestepping the slightly mysterious, soft-consonant pronunciations of Portuguese.

Dias has lived in Las Vegas for years. Regarding the language choice, it’s more than residency. Dias lays down: “When you’re in Lawrence, Kan., singing six or seven brand-new songs, and people don’t understand anything about the lyrics … the universal language at the moment is English … [if] you want to communicate, you need to talk the language of the world.”

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