Review: Bebel Gilberto @ The Barbican Center (London, 6th October 2014)


Bebel Gilberto loves to be desired. She gives you an appointment, then lets you wait for her in company with her outstanding musicians. But once she shows up, she turns the night upside-down! That’s what happened at the Barbican during the only gig that the Brazilian artist had in the UK this year. After an extended instrumental intro offered to the audience by her outstanding musicians, she smoothly floated on stage, embraced by a fluttery silky dark dress that suddenly became an integral element of the choreography, like the ribbon of a gymnast. From the start of her show she aimed to seduce her fans, initially through a soothing reinterpretation of Bob Marley’s classic “Sun is Shining”, then unravelling her heart-to-heart Brazilian breath of life. Her performance hinted at the tropical, in all its mellow colours and moodiness. Like tidal movements her voice and disposition followed a perpetual ebb and flow, as if influenced by the moon.

Bebel built her set around her newest songs, included in her fresh off the press album ‘Tudo’, but alongside she left room for inspired covers and favourite oldies. Her suave voice, the soft-spoken notes of her accompanists and the refined character of the compositions chosen created a feeling of suspension in time, as if we were really dancing to the rhythm of a samba on a warm summer day. The moves she performed on stage were a clear invitation to the audience to be enraptured by the harmonies. The Carioca artist, demonstrating the different steps, urged us to follow her in the dance.

Bebel Gilberto was undoubtedly the dancing master, the leading lady, the prima donna of the night. She set the scene, the pace and the limit to her show. With basic gestures as simple as a movement of her hand she could stop, lower or raise the music played by her attentive musicians – not an easy task! Throughout the evening she played with her voice, her audience and the technicians without giving a single reference point, manipulating the show to her own liking. But that was just one aspect of her showmanship. Her unpredictability and capriciousness are bolstered by her great charisma.

Bebel Gilberto blew hot and cold throughout the performance. She chose a roller-coaster of a set list, ranging between saudade and over-enjoyment. She revived evergreen tunes like Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’ or ‘Tout Est Bleu’originally written by the French band Ame Strong.
She also recalled her Brazilian soul with the bossa nova classic ‘So Nice’ written by Marcos Valle and Vinicius de Moraes’ ‘Samba da Bênção’. Gilberto chaperoned her audience, sometimes steadily, sometime stumbling, along a sentimental path with many emotional highlights. The show culminated in an encore, ‘Aganju’ written by Carlinhos Brown. Bebel Gilberto’s rendition of this ten-year old song is arguably its most passionate and fascinating interpretation.

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