Bebel Gilberto, Somerset House, London

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The Independent Culture

Bebel Gilberto did her best to create the sense of a sultry summer night in Rio, but the good old Blighty weather was having none of it. A dismal, chilly evening in Somerset House, on the banks of the River Thames, isn't, no matter how vivid the imagination, a substitute for the beaches of Brazil.

Bebel Gilberto did her best to create the sense of a sultry summer night in Rio, but the good old Blighty weather was having none of it. A dismal, chilly evening in Somerset House, on the banks of the River Thames, isn't, no matter how vivid the imagination, a substitute for the beaches of Brazil.

To be fair, Gilberto did her best. Alas, it wasn't enough to stir the senses. From the off, she sashayed and swayed to beautiful effect: the soothing, soporific bossa nova sounded right; we all recognised the tunes, mostly plucked from her critically acclaimed debut album, Tanto Tempo, and all sung with the Brazilian's familiar sexy fervour.

Yet something was missing. It all seemed oddly fragmented. Dressed in a heavily logoed white vest and City pinstripe trousers, she cut a sartorially disjointed figure. And, visually captivating though Somerset House is, it was the wrong place for Gilberto's brand of cocktail-lounge bossa nova.

In the first part of the gig, the normally exuberant singer fidgeted, frowned and constantly fiddled with the equipment attached to her belt, gazing all too frequently at the sound-engineers, who were working up a sweat as they anxiously tried to quell the feedback or soften the synthesiser. "It's difficult to make a good sound in this beautiful place," Gilberto conceded in her heavily accented English, as if pleading with her assembled followers for some latitude. "Playing outdoors can be very difficult." The crowd, to their credit, cut her a lot of slack.

"I love London," she cried. Who was she kidding? Gilberto looked as if she had other things on her mind, such as: why was the sound so awful? Who knows, she may even have been thinking, "What am I doing in this cold old city? Why don't I get the hell back to Rio? At least it'll be warmer." Nonetheless, she laboured diligently to put things right, starting with the amplification of her voice.

The Portuguese language, when spoken with a Brazilian twist, is as sexy as hell. It seemed, though, that this Brazilian just wasn't going to deliver. But when the sound had been fixed, Gilberto found her full-bodied range, and suddenly the voice was all sultry, come-on seductiveness, just as you'd come to expect.

After much behind-the-scenes work with whatever the roadie's equivalent of Elastoplast is, everything started to gel. With sound levels and voice as one, the atmosphere crackled, which made Gilberto a lot happier. It was the sign she needed, and her earlier worries disappeared into the night. "Baby", from her second album, Bebel Gilberto, visibly lifted our heroine and set the tone for the last third of the gig.

There are some who have criticised Gilberto's new album for being too similar in feel to Tanto Tempo, but after giving both ample time on the CD player, you realise that it is a harsh criticism. Still, the way Gilberto melded tracks from both albums did make it easy to understand the accusations.

But she's an old stager with impeccable pedigree (her father is Joao Gilberto, her mother is Miucha and her uncle is Chico Buarque, all royalty in Brazilian music) and, through songs such as "Aganju", "Tanto Tempo", "So Nice (Summer Samba)" and "Bananaeira", she generated enough heat to ensure that the cold was quickly forgotten. The sell-out crowd danced and applauded; Gilberto pranced and jigged maniacally, chatting animatedly and thanking everyone - there was a broad grin on her face, and Brazilian pop's most famous export was finally at ease. She ended the night with the unrelentingly upbeat dance number "Close Your Eyes".

That said it all, really. From shaky beginnings, she got there in the end. Just.

Summer Set season (020-7287 0932) 4 to 8 August

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