At first glance, Marisa Monte’s performance at the House of Blues Monday night could easily have passed for a gig by an American rock star. Tall and lanky, her hair flowing wildly, striding the stage with commanding self-assurance, Monte was the personification of the successful rock idol.
Her Portuguese lyrics were virtually the only element that betrayed her roots. And, in the House of Blue’s roaring caldron of sound, words can become so indistinguishable that even that factor didn’t do much to alter her image.
Which is precisely the way that Monte seems to want it. Brazil’s best-selling female artist, she has reached her pinnacle of achievement by synthesizing a style that is heavy on rock rhythms, powerful guitar licks, catchy melodies and occasional surreptitious tinges of jazz/bossa nova.
The sold-out house, profuse with Brazilians, cheered every number, reacting with special enthusiasm to the opening bars of her better-known tunes. And there was no denying the power and strength of Monte’s voice--which is a superb instrument--or her effectiveness as an entertainer. It’s no wonder that, for the younger generation of Brazilians, she is the country’s current version of Gal Costa, Elis Regina and Clara Nunes.
Ironically, Monte’s more appealing numbers were those in which she momentarily stepped out of her rock persona and dipped into some classic Brazilian songs. Performing songs by Jorge Ben and Roberto Carlos, even tossing in a lighthearted romp through a Carmen Miranda classic, she demonstrated a range and versatility that is not always present in her high-voltage pop tunes.
And, to her credit, many of the rock-oriented songs she chose contained unusually attractive undercurrents of harmony--a tribute to the fascination Brazil’s songwriters have always had with rich chordal textures. Occasional samba and bossa nova rhythms added welcome contrast to her more predictable, hard-edged rhythm tunes.
Whether Monte’s Brazilian popularity can cross over to the English-speaking countries will probably depend on if she elects to record an English-language album--which she now seems loathe to do. But audiences filled with a high percentage of Brazilians to provide energy and enthusiasm cannot be found outside the larger cities in the U.S. And American audiences have been notoriously reluctant to lay out hard-earned cash for CDs containing lyrics they cannot understand.
Still, she is undeniably a performer with irresistible presence. If nothing else, her House of Blues performance revealed that Monte has all the skills, style, manner and attitude it takes to break through to a wide international audience.