Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, 7/11/06
One doesn't normally associate a band with its sound firmly rooted in Euro trip-hop with the sight of bright blue skies or picnics in the park on hot summer days. On the contrary, the genre seems more suited to getting funky in darkened dance clubs with synchronized light shows, or getting funky at 3am with your honey in an entirely different way. Thus, I was quizzical as I approached Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park to see the brilliant Brazilian Girls on just such a sunshiney, mid-week afternoon.
Musically, I knew what I was in for. I'd caught them the previous year at Irving Plaza, and was instantly entranced by their undeniable, hip-grabbing rhythms, their spacey, mood-altering synths, and the smokey, seductive vocals of lead singer, Sabina. Not to mention her supremely bizarre onstage behavior. I'd been listening to them religiously on record and hoping to catch them again live, ever since.
Their sound takes the head-bobbing, hip-gyrating house of traditional electronica, a la Zero 7 or Frou Frou, and gives it a distinctly transcontinental flair. Though there's not a single Brazilian girl in the bunch, there's more than enough multi-ethnic might to merit such an out-there name choice.
Sabina Sciubba, born in Rome, and raised in Nice and Munich, singsin an impressive six languages (French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and English). Synth svengali Didi Gutman hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina (close, but not quite Brazil). Then you have one of the most heavenly rhythm sections ever to grace a stage, and who are, shockingly, both Americanos. Jesse Murphy, arguably my favorite bass player of the moment, hails from California. Drummer Aaron Johnston, who manages to make a live kit rival the highly syncopated layerings of multi-tracked techno "drums," sprouted up in Kansas, of all places. How did these wandering minstrels find each other and develop one of the most stylishly hypnotic, playfully quirky sounds ever to hit NY? Thank goodness for downtown club Nublu, a venue whose free-form policy of chilled-out jamming has made it a mainstay of the East Village club scene, where the band found each other and their carefree, sensual sound.
When I caught them that fateful night at Irving, I was blown away by the sheer, bald-faced, dance-club danceability of their grooves -- which isn't all that common in a live band. The fact that they could turn out music that sounds like lushly pre-programmed electronica with live, breathing, flesh-and-string instruments immediately made me sit up and take notice. But the real kicker and impression-maker is Sabina.
An incredible raven-haired beauty, in the slyly sophisticated, aloof way that only European women have, she adores playing with her image and persona, toying with the audience's perception of her. It's as if she fancies herself a performance artist, using her odd clothing choices less as fashion statement and more as costume. She's downright strange. But in an intriguing way that just serves to draw the audience in. Case in point: My first ever impression of her was as some outlandish gypsy from outer space, entering the Irving stage swathed in scarves over a black bodysuit, with mini lightbulbs strategically placed over her nipples. They bounced and danced throughout the show like little glowing eyes against their black backdrop. A year later at Fort Greene Park, she enters in an all-white outfit whose top, all padding and dangling straps, evokes a straightjacket Gaultier might make, and whose belt includes a long string trailing a semi-deflated soccer ball like a dog on a leash. With her black bowler hat, the overall effect is of a Droogie straight out of A Clockwork Orange. All of this with a wink at the audience, as if to say, "Can you believe?" Don't question it. Just smile and go with it. In fact, that very sentiment encapsulates the whole vibe of the band.
But how would their off-beat sophisticate sense of humor fly in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, playing to a crowd made up largely of after-5 Grups and Yups on picnic blankets, many of whom had tots in tow? It's a testament to the strength and accessibility of their songwriting that, in such an out-of-their-element setting, they could pull in the audience of blanket-sitters and have them caught up in the vibe and on their feet dancing in a matter of 2 or 3 songs.
Sabina's antics may have taken a while to translate, being that she comes out of the gate completely over the top, rather than easing the crowd into it. But to her credit, she is amaster persona manipulatrix. With so many languages at her beck and call, she simply dons whatever accent will be best at drawing the audience in at any given moment. When she wants to seduce us into joining the fun, she becomes an Italian femme fatale. When she's disappointed by the level of enthusiasm, her accent becomes that of an authoritative German cabaret girl, like a Marlene or Greta, informing us our sing-along prowess disappoints her and that we can do better than that. What's fascinating is its efficacy. People immediately comply and follow her orders, for she's far too foxy to risk letting her down.
Yet again, I was blown away by their strength as musicians. With such a strong aesthetic and theatricality, a lesser band might have been tempted to rest on their laurels as statement-makers. But with music like this, they really suck the audience in with their sound, and Sabina's antics are really just an added bonus. In a mere few minutes, I realize that this music is perfectly suited to sunny, outdoor settings like any good jam band, but with a hip-gyrating groove that makes the sun feel sexy, like a Bond Girl frolicking on a Caribbean cay. Mid-way through their set, with the crowd up off their blankets and on their feet dancing, they even managed to get the crowd singing along to the provocatively-worded refrain of "Pussy, pussy, pussy, marijuana." No mean feat. And later, the chant of a soccer-esque oh-way-oh anthem had the entire crowd singing along fully without incitement. It's moments like this that I appreciate the power of Brazilian Girls, and their potential. With such a compelling front woman, infectious, funkified house grooves, and sexy, sing-along melodies that transcend language barriers, they truly could be huge. HUGE. And I will do my part, forever a fan, spreading the word wherever I can.
See Brazilian Girls. Like the Girl from Ipanema for the modern era, you will leave feeling sated with good grooves and ready for good lovin.