Caetano Veloso

Aaaaah, lovely, lovely evening! Went with Erik and Lisa (not me!) to San Francisco, for a wonderful dinner at Ponzu before climbing the steep six blocks to the Masonic Auditorium to listen to the very deity of Brazilian music, Caetano Veloso. Ponzu was super. They have a very loud, lively bar/lounge area, but the restaurant area is really nicely separated from that and we couldn’t even tell the bar area was loud while we were eating. The interior space is nice, too; it’s not the typical rectangular room with chairs and tables at regular intervals. The wall curved and had little alcoves, and there was a lot of artistic use of draperies and lighting and raised areas. Dinner was very creative pan-Asian cuisine. I’m not sure they use the freshest/most seasonal ingredients (not that they were un-fresh, but the produce wasn’t the most stunning aspect of the dishes), but they blended really unusual ingredients and made everything taste surprising and good. I had a melon salad (watermelon, honeydew and canteloupe) with Thai basil, peanuts and fried shallots. Strange combination, isn’t it? I had an idea it might be good, and it was. I have to say first that I actually can’t stand melon, especially canteloupe and watermelon. Now I can say that I do like watermelon, only it has to be with savory Asian spices and fried shallots. Huh. I had wild mushroom chow mein as my main entrée, and that was very yummy. The mushrooms were succulent and flavorful, and the noodles were perfect. A little salty, but I like things to be heavily seasoned, and it didn’t bother me till I got to the bottom of the bowl; at that point it was too salty even for me. Dessert was a gooey-center bittersweet chocolate cake with a scoop of Vietnamese coffee ice cream on the side. That was really yummy, especially the ice cream, which was so good I felt like I was having an excellent dessert coffee along with my cake. Erik’s dessert was even better, though, a fig clafouti (squishy puddinglike cake type thing) with honey-rosemary ice cream and raspberry sauce. And Lisa’s coconut cream puffs came with a really luscious caramel sauce. I’m finding lately that I really appreciate good caramel sauces, not the hard-ish yucky things people try to pass off as ice cream topping, but really nice freshly made sauces that just flow. (Maybe they’re full of butter…) I want to tell what Lisa and Erik had for entrées and appetizers, too, but maybe you’re not interested, and if I did that anyway you’d never hear about the concert.

So, Caetano Veloso. When I found out a month or so ago that he as coming to the SF Jazz Festival (he’s not really jazz, but who cares), I was so excited it was as if nothing mattered at the time except getting tickets. After all I never thought I’d get a chance to hear him live, since he’s SIXTY years old and lives in Brazil! So first of all, it was great to just have the opportunity to hear him. He could have done absolutely anything and I wouldn’t have cared what it was, I could have listened to him all night and I would still have been in thrall just because he’s Caetano Veloso. I was trying to explain to Lisa what kind of place he holds in Brazilian music. He’s like Michael Jackson was at his peak, in that he was pretty much the person everyone would want to hear. But he’s also like the Beatles, in that they have occupied that top role for decades and have continually shaped and changed and revolutionized music, and not only enjoy the frantic adulation of thousands of young fans but also are accepted as real musical talents, possibly even geniuses. I don’t think there’s anyone like that in American music these days, possibly not even in European music. That kind of celebrity is what Caetano Veloso has, so you can start to understand what it meant to be able to see/hear him tonight. Second, he really was great. I don’t know how he does it at his age. If you couldn’t see that his hair was graying you might think he was forty, or thirty, or twenty. He was lithe and energetic and played for two and a half hours without an intermission, hardly stopping at all. He has a beautiful voice and an amazing vocal range; he’s able to sing incredibly loudly or softly without losing any of the rich qualities of his voice (most people start to sound weird once they up or down the volume too much), as well as really high or deep without sounding like he’s straining. I really can’t think of anyone else I’ve ever heard who can do this. A lot of people have praised Mariah Carey’s range, but if you’ve ever heard her (and who hasn’t, by this point) you know that when she sings really high she doesn’t quite sound like a normal person anymore. Caetano still sounds great. His voice never cracked in any way and he was going strong all the way through. The music itself was fantastic too. He played a really eclectic set, with some rap type stuff (‘freestyle’ Lisa said), some really loud American style rock (something like ‘Look at me/Loving you/Rock and roll/Rock and ro-olllllllll!’ with a kind of howling upswing on the ‘ol’!), and some soft old favorites with just him and an acoustic guitar (including one of my favorites, Desde que o samba é samba). And we got to get up and dance at the end. 🙂 It was truly wonderful. He’s a marvelous showman; he knows exactly when to do this or that to thrill the audience, when to make everything really loud with a strong danceable drum beat, or when to get softer and softer until he almost fades completely, when to do little dances to make us laugh, things like that. Except for random running-back-and-forth type jumpy dances, his dancing was more of a swaying motion with very expressive hand and arm gestures, but it was lovely. He completely cast a spell on us, especially with the quiet solo pieces. I loved it. And his musicians were fabulous as well, especially a quartet of drummers, who besides being very spirited and upbeat were also incredible percussionists. One of my favorite pieces involved a gradual changing of the rhythms, incorporating a new (percussion) instrument during each new part. I don’t know that people who weren’t paying attention to the actual instrumental music would have noticed that, but for anyone who did it was really awesome.

After the concert we went back to Berkeley and had Mondo Gelato, pumpkin and fig for me this time. I think both were so strong and true to life that one scoop of each was too much. We ran into some old friends of Lisa’s there and had a fun time talking to them.

Now it’s time for bed for me. I just bought a great recording of Artur Rubinstein playing Beethoven’s fourth and fifth piano concerti today, but I’m thinking now I may want to make another trip to Amoeba tomorrow to pick up Caetano Veloso’s latest, Noites do Norte (I think it’s that. It’s definitely Noites something norte.).

I added something here [link broken].

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]