|Sergio Mendes led his band through his hits Wednesday at Somerville Theatre.|
In the 1960s, Brazil's Sergio Mendes was on a mission to bring samba to American audiences - and he achieved his goal in the smartest way possible. By reimagining a series of pop chestnuts from the Beatles and Bacharach as breezy, easy-listening hits for Herb Alpert's A&M label, he created an unofficial soundtrack for sexy fondue parties across the country with his band Brasil '66.
Lately, the 67-year-old Mendes has returned to contemporary pop as a vehicle for spreading his love of Brazilian rhythms, shedding the shag-carpet image and teaming with ubiquitous Black Eyed Peas rapper/producer will.i.am and a string of guest stars for two albums, including his latest, "Encanto."
It initially appeared that Mendes would smartly steer clear of his recent
Mendes's songs have always been a guilty pleasure - a sugary mix of harmonies and tropical fluff that are executed with incredible skill. It was easy to overlook his band's excessive reliance on wind chimes and synthesized flute solos when it was playing pina-colada-smooth hits like the incredible "One Note Samba/Spanish Flea" medley. There were moments when the show crept into smooth-jazz territory and if you closed your eyes, you could easily picture yourself listening to this music on a cruise ship drifting somewhere between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan.
And just as eyelids were fluttering closed in imagined tropical bliss, Mendes said the dreaded words that can often cause panic at such shows: "A song from my new album." At which point his band launched into an updated version of "Agua de Beber" with rapper H2O, an LL Cool J-esque emcee who name-checked both himself and Mendes. This kind of genre-blending usually results in an uncomfortable awkwardness that has the potential to kill the momentum of any concert. Instead, "Agua de Beber" was unexpectedly invigorating with Mendes combining bossa nova and hip-hop effortlessly.
Even though he fell back on the clichéd give-everyone-in-the-band-a-10-minute-solo trick, overall the show was a perfect blend of middle-of-the-road nostalgia and Brazilian carnival. His hip-hop update of "The Look of Love" was more uncomfortable than sexy, but by the end of the evening all was forgiven as the audience danced and sang along to "Mas Que Nada" and "Tristeza (Goodbye Sadness)." The only thing missing was the fondue.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.