No one does sex and sadness like the Brazilians — and no one does Brazil like Caetano Veloso.
That was clear Tuesday at Benaroya Hall, when the 72-year-old world music superstar — who spearheaded Brazil’s Tropicália movement back in the ‘60s — played his first ever Seattle concert to a throng of ecstatic Brazilians — and a modicum of musically hip or curious North Americans, as well.
Looking trim in a red sport shirt, denim and sneakers, the silver-haired singer had a spring in his step as he delivered a precise set that was alternately somber, scronky and lyrical with Banda Cê, the young rock trio he has been recording with since 2006.
More than half the evening’s songs came from this year’s compelling album, “Abraçaço,” including the hard-rocking opener, “A Bossa Nova É Foda,” a distinctly non-bossa nova praise song for that traditional Brazilian form, with a spooky, electronically-altered singalong chorus.
Other recent songs highlighted Veloso’s striking emotional and musical range, which currently seems focused on broken love, dark memories and unabashed sensuality.
The Portuguese-speaking crowd laughed out loud when the singer formed a diamond shape with his forefingers and thumbs above his head and sang a line from the lively “Homem,” in which he declares he is not jealous of women’s intuition or sagacity, but of their “multiple orgasms.”
Shifting moods on a dime, Veloso sang his somber homage to Brazilian revolutionary martyr Carlos Marighella, “Um Comunista,” accompanied by dirge-like electric bass.
Veloso flirted openly on “De Noite na Cama,” unbuttoning and rebuttoning his shirt in a Charlie Chaplin-esque routine and offered more theater on “Abraçaço,” as the quartet formed a line and waved its arms like the eight-limbed goddess Kali.
The dark side emerged again on the sandy-voiced crooner’s best new ballad in years, a slow-dance song of nakedly existential desperation titled simply, “Estou Triste.”
Naturally, Veloso also dipped into his extensive back catalog, including the deliberately cheesy “Baby,” (with a chorus of Paul Anka’s “Diana” thrown in for good measure), the 1972 classic, ‘Triste Bahia,” the blithe samba “Escapulário,” the sweetly lyrical “Alguem Cantando” and the guitar-jangled “Eclipse Oculto.”
Veloso closed on a happy note, offering the island-vibed “Reconvexo” and “Você não entende nada,” the crowd chiming in on the chorus.
A three-song encore began with a falsetto, a cappella tour de force, in Spanish, of “Tonada de Luna Llena,” followed by “Nine Out of Ten,” in English, and, finally, the quick-footed but also politically down “La Luz de Tieta.”
Tuesday’s show was not a sellout, but did well enough that the Brazilian was invited back, which is great news. Maybe next time he’ll grace us with his brilliant version of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are,” which would have been a nice touch Tuesday.