A beloved cinematic classic, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, brought great joy to many. One of the characters in the film, Pelé dos Santos, is seen on minstrel duties, playing stripped down, chilled out acoustic covers of David Bowie songs, except sung in Portuguese, the native tongue of the man who plays the character. That man is Seu Jorge, a Brazilian singer/songwriter and actor, who through the course of the show, told us about his phone call with Wes Anderson where the idea to play the song’s this way for the 2004 movie were pitched. His wife had to translate as he spoke no English at the time. Even Bowie himself had praised these versions of the songs, in which Jorge had altered the lyrics in Portuguese to express his own life experiences. With Bowie’s death at the beginning of this year (and as we also learned, Jorge’s father’s death just three days later), this concert in tribute was created and now taken on tour, the first time these songs have been played in front of live audiences.
The show in Vancouver was sold out, and of course as can be expected, a large portion of the audience were donning the red hats and powder-blue uniforms of the characters in the film. Surprisingly, I saw no Bowie costumes. On stage though, a fitting collection of nautical flotsam (ropes, barrels) was arranged on either side of a stool, guitar and mic stand. Projected on the curtains behind this, two Aladdin Sane light silhouettes shone. To start the show, a man came out to do a brief introduction. He was also wearing a red hat, as well as a t-shirt with ‘unpaid intern’ written across the front of it. He told us we would have two artists here with us tonight, one in flesh (Jorge) and one in spirit (Bowie).
He left the stage, making way for the soft-spoken and friendly Jorge, carrying a mug and another guitar, outfitted in the red hat and powder-blue uniform as well, with details right down to the gun holster every character wore in the film strapped around his right thigh. He proved to be a wonderful storyteller, relaying anecdotes about the filming and the music. He said when Anderson asked him if he knew who David Bowie was, Jorge responded with a series of physical characteristics. “The blonde one? With the different colour in each eye?” He then admitted he had to be sure because he often mixed up Bowie with Billy Idol. He also said when he arrived on set, he didn’t remember the names of any of the Hollywood actors, but he remembered the movies they were in and just blurted those out to everyone he saw. Another story he told was of Cate Blanchett, 4 months pregnant during the relevant tale, sitting on the floor of the boat and working so hard, for such long hours, he was certain she was going to be sick, but she wasn’t. He said she was so strong and beautiful, working very hard to prove the strength of woman. That drew a lot of praise from the audience. He wrote his version of “Lady Stardust” for her.
The room was so still you could hear a pin drop. These songs are mostly very quiet, with a few upticks in pace such as on “Starman.” The audience responded with polite claps, cheers, and comments yelled in Portuguese between songs, and with laughter and smiles during the anecdotes. He cycled through classic Bowie material, drawing tears out of many an eye in the crowd. When he left the stage after the main set, he placed his hand over his heart and his guitar over his shoulder, but he was back very quickly for a well-orchestrated encore that involved scenes from the film, pictures of Bowie, whales, space and the sea projected on a stage-sized screen behind him. As the audience chuckled at some of these, he turned to see what it was they were laughing at, sometimes surprised it seems to see himself in a movie clip singing along. He played out “Oh You Pretty Things” to the actual end credits of the movie, eventually ending on a portrait of Bowie as the unpaid intern came back out on the stage to leap around arm in arm with Jorge before they left the stage, the Bowie portrait still staring us all down.