Brazilian Diary - Wednesday 9th June 2010 (continued)

The drive across town was typical of our Brazilian journeys - careful manoeuvring around the bumps and potholes of the smaller streets then high speed weaving between other drivers on the multi-lane highways. However despite the relentless assertiveness of the vast majority of Brazilian drivers I hardly ever felt that we in danger of collision or imminent violent death (this outlook was not shared by all of the band members), there was a sense that so long as everyone behaved in the same predictable, expected way (regardless of its sanity or legality) then everyone else could act appropriately and move in some strange but effective harmony. In all the time I spent walking or being driven around the city I only saw one 'near miss' that involved the squealing of brakes.

(A quick googling reveals that Brazil has an appalling road traffic death rate and the breakfast TV traffic report always featured pictures of mangled cars with attendant emergency teams but the illusion of safety remained.)

Eventually we pulled up in from of a large, modern building - SESCSP Pinheiros. SESC (Serviço Social do Comércio) is a non-profit organisation that runs several centres providing art, cultural and recreational facilities across Brazil, SP indicated that this was the São Paulo area and Pinheiros was the district we were in. The building was modern, spacious and airy and in our wanderings through it we saw (or smelt) a swimming pool, sports hall and large theatre and the signs indicated that there was a lot more besides. We were led to our dressing room (we had a dressing room!) to unload and freshen up, then Lucy, Jacqui and Bill carried on polishing the new acapella piece while Rory & I went up (the dressing room was four stories below ground level, the performance space was on the fifth floor above) to see the dance space.

The wonderfully equipped and decorated building had raised expectations so the first view of the room came as quite a shock. It was a huge sports hall with a cavernous arched roof, like an aircraft hanger but without the sense of cosiness and intimacy. The air conditioning, presumably set up to cope with large numbers of sweaty bodies in gymnastic exertion, filled the space with a low, roaring drone. All it needed to complete the picture was a low flying aircraft and within minutes one had appeared - we were under the flight path for Congonhas, São Paulo's domestic airport. There was no sign of the promised PA system either. As a grand finale to our Brazilian tour it was not shaping up very well.

Rather than go for a full PA system we'd chosen to just have a couple of microphones for the vocals and play the instruments acoustically, just using their natural sounds. This meant that we could set up in an inward-facing circle at the centre of the space, the way we would for a rehearsal, and have easy eye contact with everyone. The microphone levels were quickly set - it was a little strange to have the vocals come from the speakers set above and around the room but easily adjusted to - and after a couple of soundcheck numbers we were ready to go.

Having a close, intimate set-up made playing much easier and much more enjoyable. When the band is strung out in a line facing the audience it's often hard to make contact with the others, especially when singing or playing acoustic instruments that tie you to the microphones. The behaviour of the monitors (and the people operating them) becomes vitally important and it's not unusual to have a very unbalanced sound mix - I've been in situations where I'm playing on faith even when the dancers are getting a beautifully mixed final result. Freed from all of the technological worries and potential failings we could relax and just play some music together.

The gig went wonderfully well. The crowd was small, maybe forty at most, but amongst those were lots of friends from the festival. Both organisers and band were happy with the set list and with a number of inexperienced dancers in the circle easy & fun was the order of the day. Without being tied to a microphone stand or cable I was able to wander around, interact with the dancers and generally lark about - striking guitar hero poses, bopping around with the dancers, and finishing up standing high on a chair for the final chord. My playing may not have been at its most precise but I was in my element and certainly provided entertainment value if not musical virtuosity.

All too soon the gig was over - as it was we ran way over time but nobody seemed too bothered by this. Despite weariness, stress and more Omens Of Doom than you could count we'd ended up on a high note with everybody smiling. There had been tentative plans for a late meal after the dancing but we were all starting to fade and after hugs and goodbyes on the pavement we were soon minibussing our way back to the hotel. The residual adrenaline encouraged Bill and I to go out for a final drink but even we ended up back home after a couple and it was nighty-night all round.



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