In a year with David Bowie, I’ve participated many tributes, wakes, and remembrances of the man. Soon into 2016, David passed unexpectedly, and the DC metro area was promptly greeted by a concert by former Bowie drummer Woody Woodmansey and his Holy Holy tribute to Bowie’s early years.
That was a great show, boisterous and fantastic, with a remarkable group of musicians that included longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti on bass. It was cathartic to attend their concert only days after David’s passing. But it’s been equally affecting in the past month to hit two DC performances by Seu Jorge, an unassuming Brazilian musician who broke through to a new audience a bit more than a decade ago with his acoustic covers of Bowie classics in the cult film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
As Seu recounted on his tour, a tribute to David Bowie where he performed some 15 songs, he came into writing and recording his cover songs at the invitation of director Wes Anderson, who called him up and recruited him to sing in the film with the specific idea of Portuguese-language versions of Bowie songs in mind. Seu accepted and began a relationship with Bowie’s music that resulted in its own 2005 album, The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions.
Soon after Bowie’s death, Seu’s ex-wife suggested the musician undertake a tour of his Bowie songs, which he did to much success, stopping in DC twice — once on Nov. 8 in a very packed sold-out show and again on Dec. 13 in a very full show that allowed a more elbow room at the Howard Theatre. (Read our Parklife DC review of his Nov. 8 show.) He performed 15 songs that he recorded in his sessions, regaling his audience with tales of working on the film.
In one such tale, Seu recalls having a few songs at the ready when Wes asked him to take up a song for the movie. Hopes that it might be one already prepared were dashed when Wes asked Seu for a rendition of “Rebel Rebel.” “I need 15 minutes to collect myself,” Seu said, then dashed off to actually recreate the song on the fly. Searching his mind for inspiration, he struck upon an amazing combination when he decided to render the song as a bossa nova tune.
At the Howard last week, Seu performed his Bowie songs alone with an acoustic guitar, and the stripped down versions of the songs were romantic, powerful, and moving. Although I’ve long called Bowie the godfather of new wave, his trailblazing set the template for the guitars-meet-synthesizers arrangements that inspired so many new wave musicians in the late ’70s, the beauty of his songs is clear in even Seu’s single guitar. It took a special kind of genius to grasp the Bowie basics so well and render them so beautifully in another language, and Seu earned his ardent applause through being the right man for the job.
Seu Jorge was humble, confident, and even quite funny at times during his performance, which was a perfect place to cap off a yearlong meditation of David Bowie’s music and influence. Seu has wrapped up his American tour, but he’ll take his Life Aquatic Tribute to David Bowie to Europe in the spring. I have no doubt that he will find many more thankful audiences in England and beyond.
Thank you, Seu, for being the right man at the right time for that quirky little film in 2004, and again when we needed to hear your voice in 2016.