Over the weekend, Seu Jorge reprised his role as Pelé dos Santos, the “safety expert” and Brazilian singer-songwriter who acted in and soundtracked the 2004 Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The classic red curtains of The Gothic Theatre in Denver opened on Jorge sporting the Team Zissou trademark uniform, ready to play acoustic hits from the late David Bowie. He launched into “Ziggy Stardust” while pastel pinks and aquatic shades of blue lit up the theatre. Jorge, a Brazilian pop samba revivalist, strummed his maple-shade guitar with intention as he sang the Portuguese translations of Bowie’s hits.
When Jorge first released his covers in coordination with Anderson’s cult film, Bowie praised Jorge’s renditions of his songs by saying, “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese, I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”
Some of the electricity and rhythm of Bowie’s lyrics are lost in translation, but that’s not to say that Bowie songs are not translatable. During his lifetime, David Bowie released French, German, and Indonesian versions of his own songs. Because the Portuguese translations do not always sync up, in many instances Jorge changed lyrics to fit the covers. For those of us who haven’t had much exposure to the language, the English words sometimes stuck out at Friday’s show, like in Jorge’s cover of “Changes” where the chorus rang out in the familiar, “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes” across the room.
Yet for other tunes, the translation from English to Portuguese was seamless, like in “Rebel, Rebel,” which is arguably one of Jorge’s strongest covers. The crowd of the sold out show did their best to sing along not in English, but in Portuguese. The singing sailor’s setlist veered away from the film’s soundtrack sequence on “Astronauta de Mármore (Starman),” a song which presents a challenge for translation due to its preexisting rhythm. On Jorge’s covers of “Rock and Roll Suicide” and “Suffragette City,” he embraced the unsettling and urgent discordant nature of the tunes as he reached for high notes with a grittiness that the late Bowie would have breezed through. On “Lady Stardust,” Jorge was able to settle back into his lower register, where his voice exhibited strength and poise.
The crowd at Friday's show consisted of an eclectic mix of Bowie lovers and Life Aquatic fans gracious for Jorge’s tribute. People reciprocated Seu Jorge’s enthusiasm, wearing red beanies popularized by Team Zissou, as they tried to stumble through the endings of phrases that they recognized and made their best attempts at several Portuguese sing-a-longs.
Jorge took a moment during his set to talk about losing Bowie last January. Like so many others, Jorge drew much inspiration from the late artist. He told us that three days after Bowie passed away, Jorge lost his father as well. As a commemoration to them both, he then played “Life On Mars.” In the crux of this moment, it was clear who Jorge was singing for.
As his set closed for the night, the crowd erupted with shouts of “Volta!” which means “Come back!” in Portuguese. Jorge returned for an encore with a reprise of “Rebel, Rebel” while a farewell slideshow of psychedelic images, film clips, and animations played behind him. Finger-picking with elegance, Jorge’s cover of the classic Bowie hit became his own. It was worth listening to twice.
Bowie’s spirit was surely getting freaky with us on Friday evening. So if you liked The Life Aquatic and miss David Bowie, I couldn’t recommend The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions featuring Seu Jorge (2005) more. It’s available on Spotify. And if you’re looking to catch the last leg of Seu Jorge’s tribute tour, grab details and tickets here.
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.