Wearing a gray suit a shade darker than his hair, Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso looked a bit like a college professor Thursday at the Warner Theatre, where he played the first Washington concert of his 30-year career. He sounded professorial, too, holding up a copy of his recent book and lecturing on the influence of such 20th-century composers as Stockhausen and Varese. The squeals that came from the audience whenever Veloso discreetly swiveled his hips, however, suggested that his appeal is not entirely intellectual.
Much of the concert's repertoire was drawn from Veloso's latest studio album, "Livro," which consists mostly of samba ballads embellished with the Afro-Brazilian polyrhythms of the singer's native Bahia. Though his 11-piece band includes five percussionists, Veloso spent about half the set sitting on a stool, strumming an acoustic guitar as he sang lilting mid-tempo tunes.
When he stood up, Veloso demonstrated the strength and clarity of his tenor, hitting and sustaining high notes without turning shrill. But even when performing such heavily percussive songs as "Doideca" and "How Beautiful Could a Being Be," the singer had a very mannered form of abandon. Veloso drew the screams, but it was the percussionists who gave the music its sensual pulse.