Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto tries the unplugged approach in her search for new formulas | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto tries the unplugged approach in her search for new formulas


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In 2000 the Brazilian pop singer Bebel Gilberto—daughter of the brilliant bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto—achieved a breakthrough with her album Tanta Tempo (Six Degrees), a masterful blend of sensual bossa nova grooves with gentle club flourishes that, like Starbucks, quickly became a model of middle-class sophistication. Though the music remains lovely if a bit toothless, in the years since its release she has struggled to parlay this approach into something fresh. She’s worked with a shifting array of producers and has toggled between Brazilian forms and American pop styles, but while most of her subsequent releases have been well made, they haven’t exactly lit the world on fire. Her new EP, Live at the Belly Up (Belly Up Live), a live recording made in the titular San Diego club with only her longtime acoustic guitarist Masa Shimizu, offers a new mode: unplugged. Gilberto’s attractively scuffed voice dispatches the material with intimacy, but she doesn’t really bring anything new to chestnuts like Caetano Veloso’s tropicalia standard “Baby” or the Emílio Santiago gem “Bananeira.” It’s an utter mystery why anyone thought it was a good idea to include a woefully inept audience sing-along on her version of the Marcos Valle crossover smash “So Nice,” on which she herself flubs some of the lines. And on a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” it’s embarrassing to hear her try to convey the wounded anger of Thom Yorke as she insists “You’re so fucking special.” For these shows she performs with a trio—here’s hoping the drummer brings some vitality missing from her recent effort.   v

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