A year after Soul Jazz released the brilliant 2006 compilation Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound, Ann Arbor finally got its taste of the legendary movement in Gilberto Gil’s captivating performance on Friday night.
As one of Tropicalia’s founding fathers, Gil has enjoyed an innovative career spanning nearly 6 decades. His persistent involvement in both social and political causes lead to his 2003 appointment as the Brazilian Minister of Culture, and Gil’s music has always reflected his deeply personal ideals and opinions.
The seats at Hill Auditorium were filled near to capacity with a crowd dominated by long-time Ann Arbor residents and older fans. With the lights dimmed, Gil strolled on stage with his arms raised above his head, smiling at the adoring crowd. His warmth and passion for musical expression were a welcome change from the often cold and pretentious performers who come to Hill’s spacious front room.
Gil calmly strummed through songs from all periods of his career, allowing his versatile singing voice to dominate the cavernous concert hall. Wry commentary often followed the music and his charm was immediately endearing. He played a bossa nova rendition of the Beatles’ “When I’m 64” in honor of his own 64th year and stumbled gleefully through McCartney’s quintessentially British lyrical take on growing old.
A segment of the performance was devoted to a bilingual rendition of “Nightingale” from his 1979 crossover album of the same title, and he often spoke fondly of his fellow Tropicalistas, Caetano Veloso and Jorge Ben. An inspired rendition of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” worked the crowd into a frenzy at the close of his main set, and a rapturous ovation ushered him back onto the stage for an inspired encore of classic Gil compositions. It was a night to bask in Gil’s genuine warmth and exquisite songwriting.