It’s like David Bowie said in “Suffragette City,” “Don’t lean on me man, ’cause you can’t afford the ticket, I’m back on Salt Lake City.” Er, wait. He didn’t say that, but Seu Jorge did, in his only deviation from Bowie cannon during his intimate tribute to Bowie at The Eccles on Thursday night.
Jorge’s Bowie covers rose to fame in with the film Life Aquatic—and was, Jorge told the audience at The Eccles, Wes Anderson’s idea. “You know I’m a black man living in Rio de Janeiro?” he recalls asking the director. “Black men in Rio de Janeiro don’t listen to rock and roll,” he said adding that he thought he knew Bowie, but actually had him confused with Billy Idol. But at Anderson’s urging, Jorge listened to Bowie, and he said, “The first song I listened to was ‘Changes’ and it blew my mind.”
So Jorge committed to appearing in Anderson’s film, covering Bowie songs with a catch—all songs are in his native-Portuguese. And as is the case with most things Anderson does, it was a genius idea. Jorge takes the foundation Bowie created and turns it upside down. He doesn’t try to emulate the great’s voice and range, instead focusing on making his mark on the songs through composition with only him and an acoustic guitar. From a Bossa Nova version of “Rebel, Rebel” to an emotional “Oh! You Pretty Things,” Jorge’s covers are touching, joyous and captivating.
He played all the classic Bowie songs, “Starman,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Five Years,” and “Queen Bitch” among others. I wanted desperately to sing along, until I remembered I don’t speak Portuguese. So instead I tapped my toes to the rhythm of familiar tunes, while letting the newness of the way I was hearing the songs wash over me. I smiled more, I think, during this show than I have in a long time at a concert.
Jorge himself is charming and disarmingly humble. In between songs he spun yarns about being on set on Life Aquatic, “Anjelica Huston is chic,” he said. “Very chic.” He wore a red beanie—as did many in the crowd. And speaking of the crowd, it was a strange mix of Anderson fans, Bowie fans, Brazilians and returned missionaries. In fact, at one point someone shouted out a request in Portuguese. “I’m sorry,” he told the requester, “Tonight we are playing tribute to David Bowie.”
And after his encore, Jorge pointed to the photo of Bowie on the screen behind him reverently. While the crowd walked out to Bowie’s original cover of “Queen Bitch” for a minute I found myself contemplating which of the two versions I preferred.