Arto Lindsay Pages Through His 'Encyclopedia' on N.Y. Return: Concert Review
The uncategorizable performer and No Wave acolyte focused on Brazilian roots in his continuing reintroduction to New York.
Musically restless guitarist and songwriter Arto Lindsay has been elusive in the years since a string of surprisingly seductive Brazil-based solo LPs ended with 2004's Salt. He did take over Times Square for an instant in 2009, mounting a one-night "parade" whose Ministry of Silly Walks-like choreography left tourists beaming with "only in New York" amusement. But proper concerts have been scarce in the city where he made his name in the '70s and '80s, both as a pioneering No Waver in DNA, and in sideman gigs with the Golden Palominos and John Lurie's punk-jazz combo The Lounge Lizards.
The past year, though, has afforded fans a spate of very different views of the artist, ranging from a solo guitar show at The Kitchen — where the emphasis on noisy abstraction was foreshadowed by the bowl of free earplugs near the door — to an edgy trio performance in Brooklyn this April, at which promoters inexplicably truncated his headlining slot to approximately 20 minutes.
Now, with the two-CD Encyclopedia of Arto Lindsay out on Northern Spy — it pairs a disc-long live recording with highlights from the solo years, and is hugely welcome despite being not at all encyclopedic — Lindsay seems ready to reengage with his New York audience. At Le Poisson Rouge Tuesday night, he greeted a packed room with a quartet that clearly enjoyed itself, wordlessly sharing inside jokes and engaging listeners where the April show had been confrontational.
Adding Paul Wilson on keyboards and electronics to the previous show's trio lineup (with Lindsay's longtime bassist Melvin Gibbs and Kassa Overall on drums) changed the vibe substantially, rounding out the group's sound and emphasizing danceable grooves. (Had the closeness of the room not prevented it, there were several points at which a dance party might've broken out.) The fourth band member also helped solidify sometimes fluid arrangements: In the larger group, Overall seemed less inclined to relax his pace when the singer went languid, floating in eddies atop a current that kept moving forward.
Many songs that, at the Kitchen, had translated into challenging knots of abrasive guitar were here even more organic and easygoing than they were on record. Wilson rarely used his electronics to sample bits of original productions — on "Personagem," for instance, there was no sign of the splintered, half-shouted poetry that once offset Lindsay's singing. And the guitarist's noisy outbursts were deployed sparingly, sometimes less as a solo than for structural effect: On "4 Skies," which began with a quiet piano line, the eventual introduction of distortion was like a cloud finally bursting with rain.
Relaxed and friendly even when he teased the audience (as he did when a couple groped each other distractingly just a few feet in front of him), Lindsay seemed to enjoy himself fully. He nearly wooed the crowd, crooning "Beija Me" and "Ate Quem Sabe?" (a Joao Donato / Lysias Enio song once recorded by his sometime collaborator Gal Costa) as if he were in a Rio nightclub circa 1962.
Though the sexual content of his own songs tends toward the oblique, Lindsay frequently chooses more explicitly lascivious material to cover. Here, the surprising choice of Raphael Saadiq's "Still Ray" ("I'm coming home to you/Wear something see-through") followed a tune the singer has performed for years to great effect: Prince's "Erotic City" was sly here, with Gibbs offering a blaxploitation bass line as the singer dryly appraised the audience, maintaining a neutral expression as he sang, "We can f--- until the dawn/Making love till cherry's gone."
At his most interactive, Lindsay seemed to direct the lyrical praise of "Simply Are" to specific members of the audience, and gave his numerous Brazil-centric numbers a conversational delivery that made even monolingual listeners feel they could temporarily speak Portuguese. On the occasions when these songs sped up, Overall's playing starting to feel like a full Carnival drum section, one felt he could easily have gotten fans to march in formation out of the room, coursing down Bleecker Street in an audience-participation echo of that abstract procession he led around Times Square. He's been creating such events in Brazil (where he lived as a child) since 2004. Maybe it's time for him to bring that action to his old stomping grounds in downtown New York?
Ate Quem Sabe? (Joao Donato/Lysias Enio cover)
Erotic City (Prince cover)
Jardim Da Alma
Still Ray (Raphael Saadiq cover)