By Sofia Barrett and Alex LaRosa:
How does one pay tribute to a musical legend on the level of the one and only David Bowie? While translating his songs into another language and re-interpreting them for a solo acoustic guitar might not immediately come to mind, Seu Jorge took the stage at the Boston Symphony Hall on Wednesday intending to do just that. With an effortless flair, the popular Brazilian artist made that unlikely transition smoothly, without ever diluting the original passion of the music.
In Wes Anderson’s 2004 movie “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” Anderson made the creative decision to use David Bowie’s repertoire as a soundtrack for the entire film, as covered by Jorge. Just 12 years later, the Boston Symphony Hall played host to Jorge, tasking him with bringing those songs back to life in tribute to the fallen rock icon.
Jorge started playing off “Ziggy Stardust,” which received a great reception from the crowd. Following that popular Bowie hit, Jorge introduced himself and spoke about his experience on set of Anderson’s film. Jorge spoke about having actress Angelica Huston translate French to English for him, since he didn’t speak English at the time of filming, and also made jokes about how his ex-wife also served as his manager.
At the time, being a small-time starstruck musician from Brazil, Jorge explained to hundreds of people that night of how he got involved with the production — it turns out that Wes Anderson personally called him and asked him to take part in the project. Gradually, as Jorge learned the songs, he said he came to appreciate Bowie and the hidden complexity of his songs.
Intertwined with his set were several of Bowie’s biggest hits: “Rebel Rebel,” “Starman,” “Lady Stardust,” and “Suffragette City.” All of these, and in fact every song he performed that night, were translated and sung in a mellow, beautiful, and melodic Brazilian flavor.
Jorge spoke about the death of Bowie, adding that his own father died the day afterwards. “I felt like I had lost two fathers,” he said, as the entire hall listened in devastated silence. But he didn’t let the sadness linger, immediately coming back with a slate of Bowie classics. He wrapped up the night with a three-song encore, including a reprise of the crowd-pleasing and relaxing bossa rendition of “Rebel Rebel.”
For Jorge’s soft and pleasing voice, the BSO was an excellent venue. His guitar resonated cleanly but never overpowered the lyrics and vocal melody, and the stage lights accented the music without distracting from it. Jorge’s performance worked so well that the uninformed listener might have come to believe that acoustic Brazilian music was in fact the genre for which Bowie might have written his catalogue for in the first place. With a final triumphant wave of his signature red beanie to the audience, he departed with a skip in his step and a smile on his face.