My brother Howard and I saw Tom Zé in concert at BAM on 6/3/17. I saw the Zé concert in the BAM spring brochure last fall, called Howard, and he planned a trip to NYC built around the concert (he lives in San Francisco). Howard discovered Zé in the late 80s, when David Byrne released a Zé compilation on his Luaka Bop label. He saw him in performance in Minneapolis in 1993 - - I would say he saw him "in concert," but this sounds more like a performance than a concert: the band played in a gallery at Walker Art Center and the small audience (about 30 people) danced around. A perfect alignment with the Zé aesthetic.
I describe Zé as a "wacko Brazilian pop star." He did not disappoint! He's now 80 years old and doesn't come to the US very often (Howard thinks this might only be his third visit), so the performance had an extra level of significance, it felt like a capital M Moment. Here's a video with a nice overview of Zé:
I paid a little more money than I would usually pay for a BAM ticket - - it was $65 rather than $45-ish, I thought it was important for us to sit in the orchestra rather than the balcony. I didn't pay much attention to our tickets, and when we got to the theater we showed our tickets to the guy at the door, who directed us to the aisle on the left. I saw that we were in row AA, which I assumed would be in the back, behind row Z. The usher directed us to another usher down the aisle, who directed us to a THIRD usher closer to the stage. It turns out our seats were right next to the stage! And we had our own freaking row! Two seats in that row, and they were both ours.
The concert was delightful. We knew about a third of his songs from his Luaka Bop compilations, it was a treat to hear those. We were both hoping he would do "Solidāo," but he didn't, which was a bit of a disappointment, but that song is a little droopy, perhaps, for a concert, and plus, he should get to choose his own rep, right?
The band was small - - just five people and him. The concert felt like it was sold out and the audience was totally into it, which of course adds to the enjoyment. Zé himself oozes charisma and a warm, buoyant spirit. A frequent posture of his is leaning back at the waist, arms raised up, head back, eyes closed. A holy and inspiring posture! I had the best time just watching his drummer, Rogério Bastos, who was sexy as hell and tight with the beat. Here's an adorable video of Bastos playing along with a recording:
He talked quite a lot, and I wouldn't describe him as someone who speaks English. He asked for help from the audience (including Howard) in translating what he was trying to say, and they helped with the words, but not really with the POINT. In one long sequence he was asking for help with a word and they eventually landed on the word "lullaby." But none of the songs he did appeared to be lullabies, so I didn't really see the point in that. The audience seemed to be amused by this English as a second language situation, but I, honestly, was a little put off by it. I'm perhaps a little too tightly wound for the full Zé experience. I don't mind knowing what the words are when he's singing, but I do want to know what he's saying when he talks.
Quite a few people came up to the foot of the stage for the last song, some of them with banners protesting the political situation in Brazil. One woman annoyed me intensely, she waved her banner in my face and she always seemed on the verge of landing on my foot in her serious platform shoes. I could have remedied the situation by getting up and dancing myself, but that didn't really feel right...