Event Review: Seu Jorge – The Life Aquatic / A Tribute to David Bowie @ Royal Albert Hall (London, 30th May 2017)

The death of David Bowie last January was met with grief throughout the musical community worldwide.

From a marketing perspective though, it meant big money. Countless tributes took place, and the demand (and supply) of everything Bowie related skyrocketed. In the same week, his last album Blackstar debuted at #1, nine of Bowie’s previously released albums also made it onto the Billboard 200. It is truly a shame this can happen only once in an artist’s career.

What shall we think then of a tour presenting for the first time a set of Bowie covers recorded in Portuguese 15 years ago as the soundtrack to a film?

The fortuitous link between the Brazilian actor and samba-rock musician Seu Jorge and Bowie was provided by director Wes Anderson. In 2002 he asked Jorge to play the crew minstrel Pelé dos Santos in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and to provide the film’s soundtrack in the form of covers of several Bowie’s classics. With a considerable time lapse, Jorge is now touring with a show whose uncertain nature sits somewhere between a film re-enactment and a Bowie tribute.

Jorge appears dressed as his film persona, wearing a light blue shirt and trousers along with a red beanie, and takes place centre-stage in a candlelit square surrounded by nautical bric-a-brac.

He is welcomed by an enthusiastic audience of fellow Brazilians, Bowie fans and film buffs (these three groups are not mutually exclusive).

My scepticism is set to disappear as Jorge reveals himself for what he really is: an honest musician and a natural comedian who is not afraid to show the elements of serendipity that brought him from relative obscurity to becoming a small-time cultural icon. Before being contacted by Anderson, he was “playing Playstation at home”, and his “Rebel Rebel” cover was written in less than an hour under filming pressure.

Jorge sang a set of Bowie’s best-known tracks, mostly classics from “Ziggy Stardust” and “Hunky Dory”. His performance felt personal, but the material was so embedded in the collective pop music consciousness that it could not help but resonate with everyone in the audience.

Unfortunately, the last part of the show was accompanied by a disgraceful animated montage alternating scenes from The Life Acquatic and funeral icons of Bowie. The resulting mash-up looked amateurish at best and honestly felt like a tacky operation.

Nonetheless, an adoring audience gave Jorge a standing ovation, which left me with a doubt as regards what a fetish popular music can be: did they love the Bowie in him, his film persona, or the actual man behind it all?

Photo ©: Nicola Gypsycola