CéU at the Musical Instrument Museum, 6/19/12

CéU Musical Instrument Museum Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's easy to see international artist CéU's mass appeal. Her music can evoke images of a smoky lounge full of Mad Men types sipping scotch, or she can put you on some sandy beach with a caipirinha in one hand and a bikini-clad babe on your arm. It's even possible that the voice you hear if you ever reach the pearly gates of heaven will be that of the Brazilian singer.

All these things ran through my mind during last night's performance at Phoenix's Musical Instrument Museum. With a set that was largely conducted in Portuguese, I may not have understood everything that was said, but I was sure of one thing: Eu gostei.

Using a blend of cumbia, samba, and jazz, with a hint of hip-hop soul and a kind of Portishead coolness, CéU captivated her crowd with her velvety voice.

The São Paulo native slowly strutted onto the stage shortly after 8 p.m. to the sound of cordial claps and wolf whistles. Flanked by her four-piece backing band, she stood statuesque in a shiny silver sequin dress with sheer sleeves and launched into six straight tracks off of her new album, Caravana Sereia Bloom. She was almost inaudible during the first few verses of "Fffree" and "Falta de Ar." The crowd started to grow restless until the vocals were eventually corrected.

Between songs, she addressed the audience carefully in English, remarking on her first visit to a desert town. "I thought Brazil was hot," she said with a smile.

She picked up a tambourine for the slow-grooving "Amor de Antigos" and began swaying her hips from side-to-side; a sensual move that got a rise out of the gentlemen in the crowd.

CéU finally broke away from her new stuff mid-set with "Cangote" and the trip-hop-esque "Grains de Beauté" off of 2009's Vagarosa, followed by an amazing Portuguese cover of the classic Spanish song "Piel Canela." Originally recorded by Puerto Rican icon Bobby Capó, the popular tune has been covered by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Celia Cruz and Nat King Cole in years past.

"Malemolência" was seemingly the crowds favorite song of the night. Fans reacted almost immediately upon hearing the first chords of the funky track off of her 2005 self-titled debut.

Funky basslines and jamming drums anchored most of the night, and while electric guitar and record scratching added wonderful accents, CéU's voice was the true centerpiece. Quite simply, it's magical. After a little more than an hour, the quintet wrapped up to a standing ovation before coming out for a one-song encore.

Critics Notebook:

Personal bias: Love, love, love, "Piel Canela."

The crowd: Mostly casually dressed older folk filled up a little more than half of the 300 seats in the theater.

Random notebook dump: Not only did I not bring my camera to the show, but I regrettably missed opener, Curumin. I sat down right as the trio's 30-minute set ended. Fail.

Overheard: "I hate it when people leave [before the encore]."

Set List:

Fffree Falta de Ar Amor de Antigos Contravento Retrovisar Cangote Sereia Teju Na Estrada Grains de Beuté Piel Canela Malemolência Erasmo Streets Bloom You Won't Regret It Baile de Ilusão Rainha Chegar em Mim

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Anthony Sandoval
Contact: Anthony Sandoval