Brazilian Pop Legend Veloso Burnishes His Legend in L.A.


The revelation at the Pantages Theatre on Wednesday was a delightful one: Caetano Veloso in concert is as good or better than Caetano Veloso on record. And that’s saying a lot.

Until now, the only way Los Angeles residents could hear this Brazilian pop phenomenon was to buy expensive import records. Of Veloso and Milton Nascimento--the two titans of the Brazilian ‘60s and ‘70s movement generally known as tropicalismo--only the latter has graced L.A. with frequent live appearances. The experience of Veloso in person remained a mystery for Angelenos.

To the fans who filled the Pantages for his L.A. debut, the expectation was double: Not only would Veloso, 55, perform some of his many classic hits, but the concert would also be part of a tour titled “Fina Estampa,” based on his album devoted to songs from all corners of Spanish-speaking Latin America. He also found time for a carefully calculated revision of popular Brazilian songs, from Carmen Miranda to his own hits, through Antonio Carlos Jobim and the invention of the bossa nova.


All in all, the show marked the triumph of the Latin American songbook. Since his turbulent beginnings in the late ‘60s, Veloso’s voice has become as identifiable in Latin America as, say, Paul McCartney’s or James Taylor’s in the Anglo world, and at the Pantages he was rarely overshadowed by the other instruments (acoustic guitar, upright bass, spare percussion and the superb cello of Jaques Morelenbaum). Instead, his voice reigned supreme, and Veloso the showman got to shine.

At times, the singer reminded of a Harlequin or a court jester, prancing around on stage and using his elastic hands and arms to illustrate the feelings of a particular song. At other times he just stood still, posing solemnly, dressed in old-fashioned vest and jacket threaded with gold strands and dwarfed by the dramatic, symbolic backdrop of a Diego Rivera mural.

The songs in Spanish were poignant expressions of the infinite warmth and poetry present in Latin pop, from the tenderness of “Lamento Borinquen” to the joyously childlike “Fina Estampa.” The inclusion of a modern gem, Argentine rocker Fito Paez’s “Un Vestido y Un Amor,” proved that the singer has remained in tune with modern times.

Still, nothing could compare to the Caetano music that the audience grew up with. When he started performing some of his better-known selections, such as the wistful “O Leaozinho” and “Voce E Linda,” the crowd stood and sang with him.

The defining statement of the evening came with the last words of 1989’s “Estrangeiro” --the only ones in the whole show sung in English: “Some may like a soft Brazilian singer, but I’ve given up all attempts of perfection.”

Well, with this Zen decision, Veloso has actually achieved a very personal perfection, unwilling to compromise, and richly rewarding for himself and his audience.