Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil basically played their album in concert (and it was awesome)
What a pleasure it is to watch two masters at work.
That’s what I kept thinking Sunday night at the Microsoft Theater, where Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil — two aging giants of Brazilian pop whose friendly collaboration dates to the mid-1960s — played a deeply satisfying concert to begin a brief U.S. tour that will also take the duo to Oakland, Miami and Brooklyn.
Performing together with nothing more than their own guitars for accompaniment, Veloso and Gil, both 73, sang, strummed, picked and thumped their way through two hours of music — some old, some new, all of it using gorgeous melodies and propulsive rhythms to put across profound ideas.
The show came only two days after the release of a superb live album from the men, “Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música,” whose title translates to “Two Friends, One Century of Music.” Recorded last year in Brazil, the two-disc set captures a gig very similar to the one they played Sunday; indeed, Veloso and Gil have been touring this stripped-down production around the world since June.
So why were they worth seeing in person? Lots of reasons — including the fact that pleasure wasn’t all they were offering.
For one thing, there was valuable visual information to be had. Both men dressed casually for the show, an indication of how comfortable they’ve become onstage after 50 years of performing. At points, you’d look at them — during “Tropicália,” for instance, a tune from 1968 that helped foment the Brazilian cultural movement of the same name — and each man’s face would be radiating the serene concentration of someone folding laundry. They weren’t bored, just entirely at ease and sure of how this exercise would turn out.
And yet they were still capable of surprising one another, as you could tell when Veloso lifted his eyebrows ever so slightly at the sound of Gil’s twisting lead line in “Terra.” Or when Gil laughed as Veloso stood during “Andar com Fé,” walked to the edge of the stage and broke into a dignified little dance.
No less instructive were the small style distinctions between the lifelong comrades, such as their choice of footwear (hip sneakers for Veloso, sandals without socks for Gil) and preferred onstage refreshment (water for Gil, an untouched glass of what appeared to be red wine for Veloso).
In contrast with the album, which showcases their musical telepathy, these details reminded you that a partnership like theirs is improved, not diminished, by what separates them.
Another sensation available inside the theater but not through your earbuds: the feeling of human belonging that an audience creates when it greets a beloved song — in this case, Gil’s feisty “Expresso 2222” or Veloso’s lilting “Desde Que o Samba é Samba,” about the emotional power of that Brazilian song form — with a kind of collective gratitude.
Finally, there were the moments Sunday when the music’s beauty took on a darker cast, as in “Não Tenho Medo da Morte,” which Gil delivered in a low growl, his eyes suddenly steely, while he knocked out a beat on the body of his guitar. And introducing “As Camélias do Quilombo do Leblon,” Veloso said he and Gil had written the song after returning to Brazil from playing shows abroad, including one in Tel Aviv that they’d been urged to cancel in solidarity with Palestinian activists.
They went ahead with that concert. But here, over the new tune’s delicately thrumming groove, the two sang words about “the sad hills just south of Hebron” that seemed inspired by their troubling experiences in the Middle East.
The masters weren’t hiding behind their finery. They were welcoming inspection.