Brazilian performer Seu Jorge may have played a crucial part in 2002’s surprise-hit crime film City of God, but he is known to most Americans for a less strenuous performance — strumming his guitar on the deck of a ship, reinterpreting the David Bowie songs on the soundtrack to The Life Aquatic.
Those performances represented the biggest selling point of that film, but while they were eventually released on CD, Jorge never capitalized on his newfound American fame by touring to perform them. He rectified that on Nov. 12 with a belated concert honoring Bowie, whose untimely death in January was the first of many blotches that make 2016 an increasingly heartbreaking year.
Dressed in the sea foam-colored work suit and red knit cap he wore in the film, Jorge played his solo acoustic set on a stage decorated sparsely with nautical knickknacks. (Concertgoers had been told that movie clips would play behind him; thankfully, that distraction didn’t pop up until the show’s encore.) He sat with refreshments nearby, opening with a Portuguese rendition of “Ziggy Stardust” that set the evening’s relaxed tone.
To the crowd’s delight, Jorge approached the show as if he were on VH1’s Storytellers, peppering the performance with between-song anecdotes. He started off by recalling how he was hired for Aquatic: He was playing video games at home in Rio when a stranger called and asked if he knew Bowie. “Is he the one, he have two different colors in the eye?,” Jorge wondered. The Brazilian admitted he confused the sometimes-blond star with Billy Idol on occasion. Jorge only knew a couple of Bowie’s 1980s songs, like “Let’s Dance,” but the filmmakers sent him a disc of older hits to learn.
Bowie wasn’t the only Western star whose name Jorge had a hard time with. After his intimate, confessional take on “Changes” and an opened-up version of “Oh! You Pretty Things,” the singer recalled the first days he spent on the film’s set in Rome. Everywhere he looked was a famous face, but he didn’t know any of their names. “Oh, it’s Platoon!” he’d think, for instance, upon meeting Willem Dafoe.
Claiming to have heard “Rebel Rebel” for the first time just 15 minutes before he was supposed to film it, he then played the bossa-swaying ditty he invented to replace Bowie’s hard-rocking glam anthem; later, he said that a pregnant Cate Blanchett inspired his take on “Lady Stardust.”
The night hit emotional peaks on “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide” and “Space Oddity,” songs whose tugs-of-war between loneliness and connection couldn’t be disguised by having their lyrics translated to a language few in the audience spoke. The latter elicited the biggest crowd response of the night.
It was only near the show’s end, after a plaintive “Five Years,” that the singer spoke about Bowie’s death. People around the world started sending him messages, he recalled, and the news was still fresh when Jorge’s own father died. Jorge offered the evening as his “personal tribute” to both men. Surely Bowie, who once wrote that Jorge had imbued his songs with a “new level of beauty,” would have been appreciative.