More than a few red tuques and light blue tops could be found among the crowd heading into the Burton Cummings Theatre Sunday night.
The clothing was an homage the samba-singing sailor character, Pele dos Santos, from the Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou played by Brazilian actor and singer-songwriter Seu Jorge.
In the film, Jorge soundtracks numerous scenes with his jazzy, acoustic renditions of iconic David Bowie songs such as Rebel Rebel, Ziggy Stardust and Space Oddity, sung in Portuguese. The tracks became so popular, with even Bowie himself giving praise to the Jorge, that Anderson released them as an album — The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions.
Now, more than a decade after the release of the film and subsequent album, Seu Jorge (born Jorge Mário da Silva) is on the road performing the Life Aquatic songs live for the first time; an idea set into motion after the death of Bowie in January 2016, followed by the death of Jorge’s father not long after.
A very Wes Anderson-y introduction by a narrator (wearing a red toque) opened the show with an explanation of the film and Jorge’s contribution before Jorge took the stage solo with just an acoustic guitar, seated on a raised platform outlined by a chunky cluster of twinkle lights, wearing his Life Aquatic costume.
He began with Ziggy Stardust and his almost inconceivably deep baritone voice immediately enveloped the room; it’s dynamic, dense and raspy but also carries a warmth that gives his performance a feel of genuineness. The smile that often sneaks across his face while he’s playing helps with that, too.
Jorge’s performance was more of a one-man musical theatre show rather than a concert — he spent lots of time between songs telling tales of his experience working on the film, and while the anecdotes could be quite lengthy, they were charming and full of humour. He spoke about how Anderson phoned him while he was at his home in Rio to convince him to "kill the classics" of Bowie’s catalogue and how he didn’t even know who Bowie was at the time ("Black guys who are born in a favela in Brazil don’t listen to rock ’n’ roll, I’m sorry," he joked); and he spoke about the time Anderson asked him, on his first day on set, to play Rebel Rebel, a song he hadn’t prepared, which resulted in an, "Oh shit," moment while he prayed to the heavens for some last-minute inspiration (which he received).
Hearing those stories makes one realize how difficult it truly was for him to rearrange music such as Bowie’s into more relaxed, stripped-down Latin-inspired tunes, especially considering the language barrier that Jorge faced when he first started the project. But passion is passion, whether that’s rock music or dance music or bossanova, and Jorge is certainly not short on that. As he blasted through Five Years, his explosive range coupled with the emotion pouring out of him created a powerful moment, while the rumbling opening line of Space Oddity ("Grande controle da Major Tom") ignited that same passion in the audience, who responded with a wave of applause.
Jorge is also a nimble guitar player, which should be expected given his classical stylings but was still impressive regardless. He plucked out the familiar lines of Changes and Lady Stardust with an egoless swagger and it became almost impossible not to get wrapped up in the whimsy of it all.
He ended his main set with a stunning rendition of Life on Mars dedicated to his father and Bowie; it was soft, sweet and beautiful and was met with a standing ovation.
Jorge returned — sans toque — to play a few more songs, including a repeat performance of crowd favourite Rebel, Rebel.
Seu Jorge translated into English literally means "Your Jorge" and that’s how it feels absorbing his stories and songs in a live setting; it’s clear he’s giving a piece of himself to the audience. It was a short show — clocking in at just an hour and 15 minutes — but this was absolutely a case of quality over quantity.