It’s been over a decade since Wes Anderson released The Life Aquatic, his fourth full-length feature. The Bill Murray-starring tale is beloved by many but generally considered one of the weaker films in the mostly-flawless filmography of Anderson. Despite the age of the film and its steadily dwindling interest, one quirky aspect of The Life Aquatic has become more relevant over the past year or so: Brazilian actor and singer Seu Jorge’s role of Pelé dos Santos, a guitar-wielding crew member of the Belafonte with a penchant for reinterpreting early David Bowie hits with a bossa nova flair.
With the death of Bowie in 2016 increasing interest in everything related to the iconic musician, Jorge has finally had the chance to tour behind the songs that were an integral part of the underappreciated film. Five songs were released as a part of the official soundtrack for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou while the full collection was came in the form of the The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions. All of the songs feature simple recorded arrangements – Jorge’s vocals and gently acoustic guitar figures. Tonight however, the Hollywood Bowl offered music fans something a little bit better: Jorge performing The Life Aquatic covers with an orchestral arrangement for the first time ever.
As the sun began setting behind the Hollywood Hills, Jorge served as his own opener. He performed his original classic samba music alongside his touring band, which included Pretinho da Serinha on percussion and cavaco, Adriano Trindade on drums, Sidney Santos on bass, Fernando Vidal on guitar, with both Claudio Andrade and Rodrigo Tavares on keyboards. The suit-clad Jorge performed his songs in Portuguese, providing an unique taste of world music to music fans who mostly showed up to hear David Bowie classics reinterpreted like never before.
After the short intermission, Jorge returned to the stage while the one original track from The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions, “Team Zissou,” played over the PA. First up for the orchestra, which was conducted by Thomas Wilkins, was “Ziggy Stardust.” The orchestra guided most of the melody while Jorge focused on the powerfully delivered vocals. After the song concluded, he addressed the audience and told a story about being called on to perform the songs that would become an integral part of the Anderson film. In addition to the star conductor, the arrangements were done by David Campbell, who also happens to be Beck’s dad.
Jorge reminisced about arriving on his first day at a mostly-empty set and meeting with Anderson, who asked him about his knowledge of David Bowie. Being completely honest, he admitted to only being familiar with “Let’s Dance,” a latter-era Bowie cut that many considered a significant departure from his rock ‘n roll roots and one other song. The director was thinking more along the lines of early-era Bowie like Hunky Dory or The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Jorge joked “that’s rock ‘n roll, I’m more used to this,” transitioning into a quick bossa nova-style guitar figure that could have been the skeletal framework of “The Girl from Ipanema.” It is incredible (and perhaps essential) that a man so able to strip these flawless early pop masterpieces to their essential elements had so little familiarity with the original work of Bowie.
Jorge followed up this background story with a performance of one of the most well-known Bowie songs of all time, “Changes.” Finger-picking his way through the many chord changes the song is built around, he showcased a favorite reinterpretation from The Life Aquatic soundtrack. Despite the fact that the lyrics were completely sung in Portuguese, the worldliness of the lyrics seemed to transcend the language barrier, providing a goosebump-inducing moment for the audience. He followed that song up with “Oh You Pretty Things,” an upbeat song that he described as his favorite cover of the entire batch. He also touched on other classics from the movie, including “Rebel Rebel,” “Rock ‘n Roll Suicide” and “Suffragette City.” Before performing “Starman,” which he described as Anderson’s favorite Bowie song from the sessions, he mentioned that he came up with the reinterpretation the same date that he met actress Cate Blanchett, whose sublime performance in the film as a very-pregnant reporter drives much of the narrative. Next up was “Five Years” – one of Bowie’s more lyrically-driven tracks, which lost some of its power when the lyrics were sung in Portuguese. The night also included “When I Live My Dreams,” the only cover of the night to come from Bowie’s 1967 self-titled LP.
After the set concluded, an encore was obvious with the orchestra remaining on stage. Jorge made his way out from backstage with the rest of the orchestra wearing the same Zissou-issued red beanies that the Brazilian singer had been sporting the entire set. Bizarrely, the band performed a second take on “Space Oddity” for the first song of the encore. The evening concluded with a performance of “Queen Bitch.”
While The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou may eventually fade from relevance as Wes Anderson continues to make great films on a regular basis, Jorge’s performance in the film is timeless. Those music fans lucky enough to witness this one-off performance with Jorge and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra were treated to one of those unique moments when film and music converge to create incredible art.
Seu Jorge performing music from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Team Zissou (Intro)
Oh You Pretty Things
When I Live My Dreams
Rock ‘n Roll Suicide