An eclectic, sub-capacity crowd has filtered into Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club on the day after the most day-drinkingest of day-drinking days. Some club kids, some lesbians, some potheads, a flying-solo sister that smells REALLY good, and a smattering of others toeing the line between socialism and ACLU membership are here to see Brazilian Girls. The international quartet about to take the stage is one that sings openly about pussy, marijuana, and the concept that “thoughts are free”…so the composition of the crowd seems perfectly appropriate.
They’ve been mostly out of sight for the past year, that album they promised last June yet to appear, Brazilian MILF (their humorous working title) now intended for the first few months of 2014. This is the first of a two-date return to the public (American) eye — first D.C., and then New York. It seems speculatively likely that the two gigs are largely intended to cover the costs of the band convening on American soil, perhaps for a final visit to the studio to complete the aforementioned album. Which is to say…we can only expect so much, right? They live in three cities on two continents, they aren’t mid-tour, and they aren’t likely to be in tip-top form.
A foil Happy Birthday balloon is bobbing above the crowd, mostly front and totally center. Is this a look-at-me celebratory moment for a member of the generation living life largely in public? Or is this a subtle allusion to how Sabina Sciubba — now a mother of two — once tantalized her audiences with nude bodysuits hinting at her birthday suit, those displays always more burlesque than beyond. There may be a metaphor in there somewhere for the band’s reappearance: are they ready to resume living in the spotlight, or have they become content living in the spotlight’s shadow?
If 9:15pm seemed like an early start for a Friday show that’s probably because it is, and smoke doesn’t begin to fill the stage until about 15 minutes after the stated start time. The hardy souls in the room are ready to celebrate something other than America, and the anticipatory vibe feels like a bigger and less intimate version of a Wednesday night at Eighteenth Street Lounge. Didi Gutman takes the stage first, adorned with a fancier version of a headband Little Steven would love. The band’s longstanding affiliation with New York’s Nublu is repped by Jesse Murphy‘s t-shirt, and he slowly strides stage left to pick up his bass. Sciubba’s vocals appear before her visage, finally emerging from stage right with a bottle of Stella cradled in her ebony blazer’s front right pocket.
Their first song — “Women in the Red” — is somewhat lost on a crowd unfamiliar with the yet-to-be released track, but they soon work up a groove with an instrumental interlude that owns the build in a way not dissimilar from what Ray Manzarek did thousands of times. The band is pushed forward on stage, addressing the crowd directly, even while subsumed by lighting consisting mostly of red with shades of blue. They follow with a deep track, “Never Met a German,” eliciting cheers from the serious fans and quizzical looks from others.
At this point we’re wondering what kind of show awaits us. Sciubba is both less mysterious and flamboyant than her historically staged self, even while bespoke in a black pantsuit and enunciating with a significantly inflected French accent. It’s just not what the Paris resident’s audiences have become accustomed to — there are no masks, blacked out rectangles over nude body suits, or easel drawings draping her torso — but Coco Chanel is probably smiling somewhere. Before restlessness turns to ennui, the band addresses the Friday night situation at hand with “Good Time.” It aptly describes the tenor of a Brazilian Girls crowd, an anthem to the timeless simplicity of hedonism, an anthem to Friday nights lived out loud without regard for Saturday morning.
A good time, the band calculated, to then break out a thematically appropriate new track, “Go Out More Often.” That idea, that vibe, is ironically followed by Sabina’s notation that seven children are on earth due to our intrepid entertainers. (Is there anything more representative of parental responsibilities than the disparity of Saturday morning’s realities?) She talks about having a few more kids, and then sings about “Looking for Love.” This seems a bit incongruous (or at least out of order) when coming from the parents of seven, but the crowd shrugs off the irony and focuses upon the eminently danceable beats.
It’s easy enough to do, a dance party intro following what’s sure to be a single. Aaron Johnston‘s left hand is rhythmically tapping out beats, his grip on that drumstick more jazz than rock. Sabina joins the crowd, venturing from front to back and then back to front. She coos out an anthem for dark dancehalls everywhere, a place where moves are primary as looks remain shrouded in shadow…”It’s not about the way I look.” She seizes the moment, lyrics parallel the collective nature of the EDM scene that took off after their flirtation with it. “It’s all about us…” They’re building a frenzy. They’re inducing sweat and smiles and sex with an extended dance remix version of their own song…the party continues with wild abandon joining the crowd together before coming to its fateful and symbolically discordant conclusion.
Sabina talks about having arrived from St. Petersburg, which seems less truthful story than artful segue into the song with that pre- and post-Soviet nomenclature. She recommends the Matisse…perhaps stepping back to refer to an erstwhile exhibit at the Hermitage. Who knows…the audience just wants the vibe to keep on keeping on. “St. Petersburg” possesses a Sigur Ros quality to its build and adds Nico-esque vocalizations; there’s a whistle somewhere in the background. Is this what Andy Warhol would look for in a 2013 house band?
We move geographically west into “Berlin,” (with an unfortunately fumbled entry), a song in three that sounds more Parisian than Germanic. It’s initially a bit jarring, the mood existing in a different time and place. But this was party music in that time and place, and literally, a waltz breaks out amongst the crowd, that sense of turn-of-the-century Parisian party having successfully suffused the air.
They mix things up a bit, employing a zydeco intro to “Pussy.” (Which, interestingly, has its origin in French culture…zydeco, that is). It’s a full-on party, as one would expect from a song that was clearly intended as the end of the hour and ten minute set from its first downstroke. It’s not a full end, as the full band doesn’t depart the stage. So it’s a pseudo-encore, and they pull out one of their seriously underrated songs, “Sirènes de la Fête.” It’s full-on awesomeness, the crowd going wild as Sabina sings in French about wanting to wake up with (each of us, clearly). It’s a fantastic moment, but a one song encore is never enough. They depart…again…and as they return it’s just like their first arrival — Didi is first to appear on stage. They read the crowd’s mind, they understand the desire for “Don’t Stop,” both literally and figuratively.
They throw out an inside joke about Sabina no longer listening when Didi talks, and it feels like they’re not totally listening to us. Keep playing! So now we selfishly focus upon our quibbles — they’ve skipped over a few of their best songs and something was lost in the absence of their usually unique theatrics, eschewed this time for something less exotic, less unique, less memorable. Even so, the band and their audience remained in synch the entire time, which is why it is no surprise that the audience understands implicitly that the show is over once the band pulls out the dreamy ballad, “Ships in the Night.” And so the show concludes, a lullaby from the parents of seven bidding goodnight to the hundreds of kids about to spill out into the night, free of parental restraints.
Photos: Katherine Gaines (9:30 Club | Washington, D.C. | July 5, 2013)