The following year brought the landmark compilation Tropicália ou Panis et Circensis, recorded the same month as the massive protests in Paris, its title fusing Veloso's anthem "Tropicália" (which mentions the Brigitte Bardot film Viva Maria) and Os Mutantes' "Panis et Circensis." Turning a catchphrase from the May revolts into a song ("É Proibido Proibir"), Veloso soon faced an onslaught of eggs and tomatoes as well as boos during performances. In December 1968, Brazilian president Artur da Costa e Silva imprisoned Veloso and Gil, who were later exiled to England. One could say Os Mutantes got off lucky in comparison, as they were still able to flout the Federal Censorship Department through the gothic-vault morbidity of A Divina Comédia's cover art and through mocking sound effects on TV. "It was a dark period, but we fought with a smile," says Dias, who doesn't miss a chance to compare Brazil's Fifth Institutional Act with the United States' Patriot Act. "We were jokers, but we were serious jokers."
Today, eight years after Beck's best album, Mutations (featuring the single "Tropicalia"), Os Mutantes and their contemporaries are surfing another deserved cosmic wave of younger-generation wonderment, and it's more apparent than ever that the movement's major musical artists covered each other's tracks in a way that emphasized — rather than hid — their unity and intent. The recent Soul Jazz comp Tropicália: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound begins with Gil's "Bat Macumba" and closes with the Os Mutantes version. Through moments like Gal Costa's gorgeous "Baby" (another Veloso composition also covered by Os Mutantes), the lesser-known but perhaps superior collection Tropicália Gold, on Universal, highlights the music's oft-overlooked links to bossa nova and the ties between Tropicalismo îe-îe-îe and Françoise Hardy's languid yé-yé. Veloso's autobiography, Tropical Truth, gives shout-outs to Jean-Luc Godard, but Serge Gainsbourg had to have been just as much an influence on Veloso's lyrics and the whiz-bang! noises on Os Mutantes recordings such as A Divina Comédia's "Chão de Estrelas."
Since he laments that Al Jazeera isn't readily available in Brazil, Sérgio Dias might be the first to note that Brazilian TV and popular music ain't always what they used to be, regardless of the fact that Gil is now the country's Minister of Culture. For example, the ’90s brought the bizarre blond ambition of Playboy playmate–turned–pop star and kids TV host Xuxa — not exactly the girl Os Mutantes had in mind when they "shoo shoo"-ed through Jorge Ben's "A Minha Menina." But the Dias brothers still have many reasons to celebrate. Earlier this year, a Tropicália exhibition at the Barbican in London brought the movement's visual artists, including the late Hélio Oiticica (who coined the term Tropicália), together with their current technicolor children such as Assume Vivid Astro Focus. It also led to a live performance by Os Mutantes with new vocalist Zélia Duncan — the first time the Dias brothers appeared onstage together in over three decades. Devendra Banhart, who had written to the group asking to be their roadie, was the opening act.
"I felt like the guys going into the arena," says Dias. "It was such a burst of energy — it was outrageous. After the show, the audience stood yelling 'Mutantes!' for 10 minutes. It's such a humbling situation, to think about people wanting this 30 years later. It makes me want to bow to the universe." SFBG
With Brightback Morning Light
Mon/24, 9 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF