Manu Chao @ Celebrate Brooklyn
Thanks to some string-pulling by Rita H., I recently saw my first Manu Chao show on a perfectly steamy NYC summer night at Celebrate Brooklyn. Now, because I spend way too much time on YouTube, I had some idea what to expect. But I was still ill-prepared for Manu, who was best described by the guy standing behind me as “a battery that doesnt need recharging.”I caught Manu and his equally high-energy band, Radio Bemba Sound System, on the first of two sold-out nights at the Prospect Park Bandshell. The show had the vibe of a World Cup soccer game, with a multi-culti crowd of about 5,000 fans cheering, dancing, jumping, screaming and offering up undergarments. (Really, the man has probably amassed a museum-worthy collection by now).
For anyone unfamiliar with Manu Chao’s sound, it’s something like a Latin version of The Clash. A continental Europe reggae/ska/punk artist who sings in Spanish, Portuguese, French, English and Arabic, by my count. (In his recent interview with Rita, he says he’s been dabbling with Italian lyrics too). On album, anything within reach-- doorbells, ambulance sirens, fireworks, etc.-- is a musical instrument.
Manu doesn’t make it to North America often, but he spends a lot of time touring the rest of the world, so Brooklyn got a tight and well-rehearsed band. They delivered versions of all their classics “Me Gusta Tu’” “Merry Blues,” “Clandestino” and “Bongo Bong.” If I have any complaints, it’s that I wish some more of the on-album sound effects made their way to the live show. I also missed the female voices that regularly back him up in the studio. My friend Mathias, who knows about these things, commented that nearly all of the songs were structurally similar, with the rhythm section ending most of them the same exact way. Still, Manu didn’t lose the audience for a single moment, with each song inevitably breaking out into a full-on party. Manu Chao packs so much punch; he’s pure superstar. And I defy anybody to go to a show and not find himself moving from beginning to end.