The long-awaited Mutantes reunion was a long time coming. Earlier invitations had been politely refused (including a 1993 request by Kurt Cobain), and it seemed that the only chance one would have to listen to the group’s material live would be through revisits by former members or through cover bands.
So it was a welcome surprise when three of the band’s original members, brothers Arnaldo and Sergio Dias Baptista plus drummer Dinho Leme came together back in 2006 at London’s Barbican Theater during an event to mark the 40th anniversary of Tropicalia, the psychedelic-inspired cultural revolution that changed the face of music, theater and cinema in Brazil. Without original bassist Liminha (today a famed studio producer) and cranky vocalist Rita Lee (one of Brazil’s major rock stars), the trio recruited singer-songwriter Zelia Duncan to replace Lee on her vocal parts and assembled a band formed by backing musicians from Sergio Dias’ live ensemble.
Os Mutantes sound incredibly reenergized as they go through their early-70s catalogue, blending hits like ‘Baby’ (which Duncan makes her own), ‘Panis et Circenses’ and ‘Balada do Louco’ (Madman’s Ballad) with more obscure prog-rock-influenced moments such as ‘Ave Lucifer’ and ‘A Hora e A Vez do Cabelo Crescer’ (It is Time To Let The Hair Grow), a song that was censored by Brazil’s military authorities due to its lyrical content.
One of the disc’s greatest moments comes when, halfway through ‘I Feel a Little Spaced Out,’ Sergio Dias does an extended guitar solo to the tune of George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’ Listen also to ‘Bat Macumba,’ in which Devendra Banhart and Noah Georgeson join the band as they close the show.
Those who had the chance to hear the band during their tour had a unique opportunity that might not come around again. Last September, both Arnaldo Dias and Duncan announced that they were quitting the band to resume their solo careers. Sergio Dias and Leme, however, have vowed to soldier on and release a new studio disc.