By Jim Farber
Album Review: 3 out of 5 stars
On paper, it looks like The Geek Meets The Chic.
David Byrne, who long ago made an art of gawkiness, shared the Carnegie Hall stage in 2004 with Caetano Veloso, perhaps the most fleet and sensual singer on the planet.
Surprisingly, the chemistry clicked — enough to deserve the transition from a one-off event to a repeatable CD, issued today, nearly eight years after the fact.
I saw the original show and swooned. But experiencing it again on an album emphasizes the subtle elements Veloso and Byrne have long shared.
While Veloso may lately be known for his prettiest and most pruned work, he has a long history of music that’s wackier, rockier, and more disruptive. He first came to prominence in the ’60s as a key leader of Brazil’s Tropicalia movement, a south-of-the-border corollary to U.S. and U.K. psychedelia. Byrne had a key hand in alerting Americans to the wealth of this movement by issuing several popular compilations of its greatest hits in the ’90s on his Luaka Bop label.
With this show, Veloso returned the favor, asking Byrne to share a stage for one night during a longer run of the Brazilian’s shows at Carnegie. The concert features seven songs performed by Veloso, six by Byrne, and five with them together. All are delivered on delicate acoustic guitars, enhanced by occasional cello work from Jaques Morelenbaum and percussion by Mauro Refosco.
Veloso emphasizes the project’s desire to bridge worlds by slipping allusions to Manhattan into his own song “Manhata.” He also offers some well known songs that date from his rockier days, like “O Leaozinho,” whose dancing melody sounds as magical as ever, and “Um Canto de Afoxe para o Bloco do Ile,” which features Byrne warbling along. At first, it’s odd to hear Bryne in so fluid a setting, yet it’s his presence that reminds us of Veloso’s quirkier past.
Veloso starts off the vocals on Byrne’s Talking Heads song “The Revolution.” His lilts add a new wink and wrinkle. Veloso’s yelps do the same for the Heads’ “Nothing but Flowers,” whose lyric imagines a world of such pure nature, it just makes people pine for Pizza Huts and 7-Elevens.
The skeletal arrangements help focus the humor of a song like Byrne’s “Everyone’s in Love With You,” in which his girlfriend keeps upstaging him. (“I want to kill and kiss you,” he sings). Yet, the two stars entwine most intimately in the final trade-off: first Veloso’s blissful “Terra” (earth), then Byrne’s chillingly wry “Heaven.” By that point, this odd couple seem just like soul mates.