@ Southpaw, Brooklyn
Brazil's Hot Ingenue Channels Janis, Joni &...Chaplin
Novo MPB, the Brazilian pop redux that’s happening lately, is hard to put your finger on. The songs have the same genetic structure as the classic Brazilian pop genres, but it’s made in Sao Paulo by what seems like a bunch of nerdy hipster dudes, and sung by their Miranda July lookalike girlfriends. Or in the case of Tulipa Ruiz, who just had her last U.S. show last Wednesday night at Southpaw, made by a goth chick who likes wearing skull t-shirts and burlesque-appropriate fake eyelashes.
But that’s Tulipa, who showed the small but appreciative Tuesday night crowd how a Brazilian channels Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell. In the same song. Supported by her tiiiight band of bearded hipster dudes — Richard Ribeiro on drums, Marcio Arantes on bass, and her brother Gustavo Ruiz on guitar — Tulipa spent 12 songs breaking down any assumptions you might have about how talented pop singers should act onstage.
She started with her big single, “Efemera,” off the 2010 record that Brazilian Rolling Stone dubbed the year’s best. And her performance was exactly like her CD, except…she is way goofier in person. To give you a clue, she sang the bridge of this song — lyrically a kind of an existential meditation on memory — on a kazoo.
And she didn’t stop there. As the show progressed, she mimed being in a box, while singing “Pontual,” and did several mic tricks, including singing into her cupped hands over the mic and making her voice sound like it was being transmitted from a radio tower in “Do Amor.”
The theatrics would’ve just been cute, if she didn’t back them up with some serious pipes. With all her flailing around onstage, even doing a backbend into the mic like she was playing limbo, she never missed a note. ”Do Amor’s” extended humming section in very high octaves was one of Tulipa’s more Joni Mitchell moments. Then, her punk rock highlight was in “So Sei Dancar com Voce,” when Tulipa wound the microphone cord around her body so tight that she had to twist her neck to sing into the mic. Her voice growled and fluttered through the chorus “So SEI dan-CAR com vo-CE, isso e o que amor FAZ” (“I only know how to dance with you, this is what love DOES”) brought some Janis Joplin soul into her bossa swing.
At the end of her final song, “A Ordem das Arvores,” she jumped offstage with her mic stand, and sang the last few bars dancing with the audience. And crooning into the mic all the while, she walked through the door to the backstage and disappeared, leaving the band to finish up. Now that’s what I call show biz.
Judging from Tulipa’s commitment to the off-kilter, it looks like the kids making Novo MPB take their fun very seriously. This makes them worthy inheritors of the MPB mantle — if a laser-like focus on good times is not the Brazilian musical legacy, I don’t know what is.