Transcendent grooves

Special to The Times

The energy level was hitting the top of the excitement barometer at Royce Hall on Saturday night even before the first infectious rhythms of "Carnaval Eletronico" were heard.

A packed crowd, seemingly dominated by the Southland's Brazilian community, waited impatiently, cheering, applauding, shrieking and -- when the musicians, singers and dancers dashed onto the stage -- erupting into decibel-shattering roars of approval.

But even that intensity was topped when the headliner herself -- the lithe Daniela Mercury -- appeared at the top of a riser, a perpetual smile on her face, singing a welcoming song, moving smoothly through the sensuous steps of the samba.

It was a small taste of what was to come -- a program in which music, dance and the sheer joy of performance transcended any limitations of language.

Concerts by Brazilian artists -- especially those produced by Patricia Leao and her Brazilian Nites company -- are always notable for their effervescent connection between artists and audience.

But Mercury's performance took it to another level. Before the first song had concluded, the entire front half of the Royce audience was crowding the stage, overflowing the aisles, essentially converting the performance into a standing, arena-style event.

Mercury, who turned 40 in July, has been a Brazilian (and, to some extent, global) superstar since the early '90s, when her album "O Canto Da Cidade" brought the Afro-Brazilian rhythms of Bahia's Axe music to the international pop world.

Her performance here, based in part on the template of her latest album, also titled "Carnaval Eletronico," blended the electronic grooves of the CD with a sprinkling of her greatest hits.

Leaving the stage for only a few moments during brief instrumental passages or choreographed dance segments, she was a study in motion and sound for more than two hours.

One song quickly gave way to another, often with the ecstatic crowd singing along -- in characteristic Brazilian style -- with the lyrics.

Mercury's hit version of Carlinhos Brown's "Maimbe Danda" surfaced at the beginning and end of the program, each time triggering joyous participation in the "Zum, Zum, Zums" of the chorus.

At one point, shifting from Portuguese to English, she spoke of her youthful fascination with a Sarah Vaughan album of Beatles tunes and sang a warm, utterly idiosyncratic version of "And I Love Her."

But the most fascinating aspect of this extraordinary event was its seamless combination of meticulous craft (complex choreography and stage movements, flawlessly executed), mesmerizing music, body-moving rhythms and, above all, the sheer vitality of Mercury's life-affirming performance.

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