Photo by Isabel Pinto/ anamoura.com
The Dakota was dark on Monday night. Almost as dark as when Prince performed there. This time, though, he was in the audience and sent several floral arrangements that adorned Ana Moura’s dimly lit stage.
The Portuguese fado star, who is beloved by Prince and the Rolling Stones, was returning to the Dakota for a two-night stand. Since last year’s Minneapolis engagement, her band has expanded to include a drummer and electric keyboardist so she could more effectively perform the material from her new album, “Desfado.”
Her 95-minute performance Monday at the packed downtown club was, in a word, captivating. Moura, 36, gets you with her sway -- her hips, waist-length raven hair and that dusky, dramatic voice. She didn’t exhibit much vocal range but she sells a song with her slow, deliberate phrasing that underscores the emotionalism of her Portuguese lyrics.
As Moura explained in English, she offered a few traditional north Portugal folk tunes that had a bit of a polka feel that invited clapping along in rhythm. She also essayed a couple of numbers in English – Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” during which she was appropriately drunk with desire in the tradition of the original version of the song, and the Prince-penned-for-her “Dream of Fire,” which lacked range, dynamics and the compelling piano work of Herbie Hancock (who plays on the album); her keyboardist was too tentative.
The musician who mattered most was baby-faced Ângelo Freire, who played the Portuguese acoustic guitar known as the guitarra, the key instrument for fado. Playing a stubby guitar that at turns sounded like a mandolin and a bandurria, he fascinated with his fancy and often fast fingerwork. He turned the encore finale “Fadinho Serrano” from a jaunty gypsy Portuguese polka into some kind of Euro bluegrass breakdown, and he evoked Carlos Santana on “Dream of Fire.”
Moura drew heavily on material from “Desfado,” her latest attempt to cross over, this time with the help of female-friendly U.S. producer Larry Klein, who has worked with Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux and others. For example, the bouncy title track evolved from a sprightly clap-along piece into the predictable but crowd-pleasing Cuban standby “Guantanamera.”
But Moura was most striking musically on the songs that came closest to traditional fado, especially the mournful, bluesy ballad “Loucura,” the dark night’s brightest highlight.
Here is Moura’s set list from Monday:
Havemos de Acordar/ Amor Afoito/ A Minha Estrela/ E Tu Gostavas de Mim/ A Fadista/ Caso Arrumado/ Porque Teimas Nesta Dor/ Despiu a Saudade/ Ate Ao Verao/ Os Buzios/ band instrumental/ A Case of You/ Dream of Fire/ Como Nunca Mais/ Fado Alado/ Bailinho a Portuguesa/ Desfado ENCORE Loucura/ Fadinho Serrano