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Long after 'The Life Aquatic,' Seu Jorge still has David Bowie on his mind

Long after 'The Life Aquatic,' Seu Jorge still has David Bowie on his mind
Seu Jorge performs Saturday at the Theatre at Ace Hotel. (Timothy Norris)

Red knit ski caps adorned many a head in the crowd gathered Saturday night at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, where Brazilian singer and actor Seu Jorge performed a stirring concert tribute to the late David Bowie.

The accessory, which Jorge himself wore, along with a pale blue shirt and pants, was a nod to his memorable character in “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” director Wes Anderson’s 2004 film starring Bill Murray as an eccentric, Jacques Cousteau-like ocean explorer.

In the movie, now a cult classic, Jorge plays a member of Zissou's crew who turns up intermittently to sing Bowie songs in Portuguese while accompanying himself on delicate acoustic guitar. (To ask why is to misunderstand the insular logic of a Wes Anderson movie.)

And those red caps weren't the only visual reminder of the film in Jorge's show, which he's scheduled to repeat Sunday and Monday at the Ace. A large ship's wheel sat at the front of the stage and clips from the movie played on a large screen positioned over the singer's head.

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But all that seemed secondary to Jorge's real mission, which was simply to demonstrate his deep admiration for Bowie's music in wake of the pop icon's shocking death in January.

Indeed, though he released an album of his distinctive Bowie interpretations in 2005 — with "Queen Bitch," "Suffragette City" and "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," among others — Jorge didn't feel compelled to tour behind it until this year.

As on the album, his performance here had a minimal sonic setup: just Jorge, seated on a stool, strumming and plucking his guitar as he sang.

Film clips accompanied Jorge's performance of David Bowie's music.
Film clips accompanied Jorge's performance of David Bowie's music. (Timothy Norris)

Yet he brought what felt like infinite detail and emotion to the songs.

"Life on Mars" was tender and vulnerable, while "Ziggy Stardust" throbbed with yearning — a rebel yell comprehensible in any language. For "Suffragette City," Jorge transformed the swagger of Bowie's glam-rock original into something moodier, almost eerie.

Some of Bowie's songs hadn't been familiar to Jorge prior to "The Life Aquatic," he recalled, including "Changes," which blew his mind when Anderson played it for him. And it was fascinating to watch him demonstrate how he'd reconfigured the music to suit his style, as he also did with "Rebel Rebel," where he opted to sing the crunching guitar riff over a syncopated lick of his own.

In "Oh! You Pretty Things," which he called his favorite Bowie tune, his uncluttered arrangement called attention to the ingenious architecture of Bowie's song; he was showing you the bones instead of the trademark decoration.

Near the end of the show, Jorge reminisced about the week that Bowie died — about how tough it had been to lose him yet how proud he'd felt to hear from friends who'd found comfort in Jorge's album.

Then he revealed that his father had died just three days after Bowie.

"He made me the man I am today," he said, bringing the room to a standstill with his warm remembrance.

Jorge was referring to his dad, of course. But it was clear he meant Bowie too.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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