Sergio Mendes’ performance at the Blaisdell Concert Hall on Tuesday night was ostensibly a celebration of the 50th anniversary of his famed Brasil ’66, the bossa nova and pop fusion group that gave him worldwide fame. But given how busy Mendes has kept himself in the 50 years since, it would have been a disappointment to leave the rest of his illustrious career unrepresented.
With Mendes’ affable stage presence, one thing he clearly is not out to do is disappoint, and so it was on this evening that he and his nine-piece band (including two female vocalists and a rapper) honored his glorious beginnings but also pleased fans of every stage of his career in an energetic 70-minute show.
The five-man backing band took the stage first, allowing Mendes and singers Gracinha Leporace (Mendes’ wife) and Katie Hampton to make a dramatic entrance. They asserted themselves right away with a raucous performance of “Fo’-Hop (Por Trás de Brás de Pina),” Leporace and Hampton rattling off the Portuguese lyrics in impressive unison.
“Pretty World” followed, and the audience erupted with the opening notes in appreciation of the Brasil ’66 classic. Leporace and Hampton were as strong as vocalists Lani Hall and Janis Hansen were in Brasil ’66’s heyday.
The band ran through a few more songs, including Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters of March,” before taking a break for Mendes to engage with his fans. The Brazilian pianist opened with a hearty “Aloha” before noting that “It feels like Brazil here (in Hawaii).”
He talked a little about Brasil ’66, and noted that “most people in this (current) band were not born yet” before leading the youngsters in Jobim’s “Girl from Ipanema,” his vocalists providing support.
The show charged on with a playful rendition of “Chove Chuva (Constant Rain)” — a coincidence the audience would not enjoy when faced with a downpour upon departing the venue — and the 1983 hit “Never Gonna Let You Go,” with a surprise vocal turn from multi-instrumentalist Scott Mayo, who stepped out from behind the keyboard/saxophone/flute to ably trade verses with Hampton after Mendes charmed the audience with his frustrating tale of how Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” kept it from topping the charts.
Soon enough, though, the band got back to what the audience wanted most — more Brasil ’66 — with three songs that incarnation was known for — Little Anthony & the Imperials’ “Going Out of My Head,” the Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill” and the Hal David/Burt Bacharach composition “The Look of Love.”
The crowd roared for each of those, reaching its loudest at their conclusion, at which time Mendes introduced his ensemble one-by-one (“the best band I’ve ever had,” he called them).
“I’m definitely moving to Honolulu. Thank you so much!” he declared before jumping into his signature song “Mas Que Nada.” Rapper H2O filled will.i.am’s shoes, doubling as hypeman as they performed the hip-hoppy 2006 version. He implored the crowd to sing along and “put your hands the air” and the audience was all too willing to oblige him.
The band came back for one perfunctory encore and its fans walked out still buzzing from a brisk show that, if a bit short, never let up. Mendes and his ensemble head next to Maui for his first ever show there on Thursday night at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.