Sergio Mendes put on a couple of very upbeat, high-energy shows at The City Winery last Sunday Night, February 25th. (We caught the earlier show at 5:00 ... and both shows were complete sell outs.) The show started a little bit late (around 5:15) and lasted exactly an hour before he came back out for three encores. Still, we were out the door and picking up our car by 6:30.
What may have been lacking in the overall length of his performance he more than made up for with a non-stop barrage of music, all brilliantly executed by his six piece band. (Mendes played keyboards the entire night as well and was joined on stage by two female vocalists (one of whom is now his wife, Gracinha Leporace), recreating his trademark sound that made the group so popular in the mid-to-late '60's.
Mendes introduced many of us to the sounds of Brazil for the very first time back then with a string of hits released on Herb Alpert’s A&M Records label. His unique arrangements of currently popular songs into a Bossa Nova backbeat rewarded him (and Brasil ’66) with three straight Top 20 Hits in 1968 alone: “The Look Of Love” (#4), “The Fool On The Hill” (#6 - Paul McCartney once told him that this was his favorite arrangement of his song) and “Scarborough Fair” (#14). (Although “Scarborough Fair” was noticeably missing from the set list Sunday Night, his current outfit performed an excellent version of “Goin’ Out Of My Head.”)
Sergio told of an earlier trip to Chicago back in 1965 where he was performing at a small club and then, while doing a bit of sight-seeing, he happened to stop by another club and encountered there a beautiful singer with a beautiful voice. He instantly recognized how much that voice could add to his sound. That young singer’s name was Lani Hall and her voice, along with that of Janis Henson during the hit years, would go on to create the unique blend that defined the signature sound of Brasil ’66 in the ‘60’s. (Hall, of course, would go on to marry Herb Alpert several years later. We saw Lani and Herb at The City Winery last year.)
Because it was the female voices, when coupled with the smooth, Latin rhythms that became the driving force of their sound, I was a bit surprised by how much Sergio sang during Sunday’s performance … and it really helped to enhance the overall sound. (A number of tunes were performed in Portuguese … but the rhythmic beat was infectious … you couldn’t help but feel yourself move during his set. In fact, at one point the band went into a lengthy, jazz-inspired jam and we saw several of the waitresses come back out from the kitchen just to watch the band as things began to heat up on stage.) He also featured rapper H2O, who kicked things up another notch with his exciting performance. (Ironically, Sergio mentioned on stage that this is the best band he has ever played with ... yet I can't find their names listed ANYWHERE and I've been searching for two days!!! You'd think he'd at least give them credit on his website or Facebook page. This just seems to be way too common place these days where the artists who help you achieve your incredible sound live in concert are not properly credited in the places fans are most likely to look.) During a quick round of introductions to close the set (I guess I have to learn to tape record these things!!!) it was interesting to note that a few of the players are from Brazil ... and one is from right here in Chicago!
That being said, his musical director was also quite impressive, playing keyboards, flute and sax and also helping out on lead vocals on a few of the tunes featured.
After the first round of hits stopped in the late '60's, Mendes revived the band as Brasil ’77 for a portion of the ‘70’s … (and again very briefly in the ‘80’s as Brasil ’88!) and then came back with a couple of big hits under his own name (“Never Gonna Let You Go,” #4, 1983 and “Alibis” ... one of my favorites and also not performed that night, #29, 1984, both featuring vocals by Joe Pizzulo, accompanied by Leza Miller on the former.
After fielding off a couple of requests for this tune earlier in the show, the band featured their 1966 favorite “Mas Que Nada” as their first encore. (Surprisingly this record only reached #47 at the time but is perhaps the song they are most identified with today.) The verses were reworked into a rap which surprisingly worked very well … and the entire audience at The City Winery were up on their feet for this one, a scene we’ve never experienced before at this venue where things seem to always be a bit more mellow and laid back. (Management was beaming during Sergio’s set … I can assure you they’ll be back!)
They’ll be heading Down Under in April before returning to The States for shows on both the west and east coasts in June and July … here’s their current itinerary should you want to check them out. (Well worth it!)
Prior to taking the stage, The City Winery Management Team announced that per Sergio Mendes’ request, there would be no photography or video taping allowed during his performance. They then even went so far as to post signs all over the theater during the first few songs to this effect … and we saw several audience members confronted and told to put their phones away during the show. (Two professional photographers were also told to pack up their gear!)
Nevertheless, Frannie was still able to sneak a couple of shots … and I’m hoping that she’ll share her review of the concert shortly after she gets out of prison for doing so. (Just kidding … here they are) …
It was a very enjoyable experience - and highly reccommended.
Also present at the show were long-time Forgotten Hits Reader Kristy White (not one of the original 35 but pretty darn close!) and her son Mitch, who even sprung for backstage passes to Sergio’s “Meet And Greet.”
Here is her accounting of that night’s event, along with a photo of the two of them with Sergio Mendes …
Do you remember the many rants you posted about the sorry state of radio over the last 20 years? While I have not only always agreed with you, I often quote your statistics. Because of that, I started to seek out other music many years ago.
My first discovery was Sergio Mendes, because I remember my parents having one or two of his records. Since then, I've grown to almost exclusively listening to "world music," with a particular love of all things Brazilian. So his show Sunday night was something I looked forward to as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. (Remembering the once in a lifetime opportunity I missed several years ago when Joåo Gilberto canceled his show in Chicago.)
Along the way, I'd turned my musician son Mitch on to Brazilian music, and he also took to it like a fish to water. This show was his Christmas / Birthday gift. He won't be writing a review for you … he has to write a paper on this for the class he missed to go to this show, haha!
Anyway ... first impressions of the show … I was happy to see a full band. I was worried that it would just be him doing songs no one wants to hear. I hate to be cynical, but you never know what you're getting with older artists. We were thrilled when he announced we would be treated to a lot of Brasil ‘66 songs. His wife Gracinha was in very fine voice. The band was phenomenal. The conga guy from "Skookie" IL was my favorite. He killed it. Sergio told us after the show, about three times, that this was the best band he's ever had. He was very adamant about that.
How did I never know that "Never Gonna Let You Go" was a Sergio Mendes song??
I'm embarrassed to admit that, but I absolutely loved the performance of it Sunday night. “The Look of Love,” “Mas Que Nada,” and bits of other well knowns, in a medley, were all very thrilling and well done. I was commenting that I really dig H2O's rap send up of his classic songs. I wasn't real crazy about it when the Black Eyed Peas did it, but I enjoyed it last night. I liked that it wasn't over the top, it was very well incorporated. The show overall hit all the right notes, figuratively speaking. It was a perfect mixture of older / not so old songs, highlighting the performers' talents, and getting the crowd up on their feet with a couple encores. We were totally thrilled … plus, sitting eight feet away from him didn't hurt the experience at all!
After the show we had passes for the meet and greet. We were the last in line, so I didn't feel self-conscious as I blubbered to him about what a thrill it was to meet him. Sure, I would also blubber if I ever got to meet Micky Dolenz or Dave Matthews ... but world music is the most important thing in my musical life, so this was different.
I watched him as he spoke to all the other people ... he was genuine, gracious, not at ALL impatient or trying to hurry anyone along. He listened, he spoke, he touched arms, he took photos, and he smiled, as he does, with his whole soul. It made me smile just watching him. Of course, I introduced my musical prodigy son and mentioned that he's a musician and in college on a full music scholarship. Sergio was very happy to hear this and asked Mitch a few questions and encouraged him to stick with it. He mentioned that his own 24 year old son doesn't want to be a musician, so he was appropriately grandfatherly about his encouragement. He signed my wristband because it's all I had. He tried to find something else to sign for me, but there was nothing around, so he signed it.
He was incredibly sweet and humble. I told him meeting him was the biggest thrill of my life, and he was actually pretty humble about that. Here's the photo of me beaming ... I should have let him be in the middle, but I was starting to not make sense at this point.
If I had the once in a lifetime chance again, I'd see this show again, exactly as was.