More than 10 years after setting the pop world on fire with his solo debut, Proxima Estación: Esperanza, Manu Chao has finally given Miami a long overdue live performance, thanks to the Rhythm Foundation. The wait did not matter. At 50 years old, this man still gives the same energy to the crowd as his early days. As noted on Independent Ethos earlier this year (Manu Chao to make Miami debut in Sept.) this show arrived with high expectations. They were met.
The Bayside Amphitheater (currently known as the Klipsch Amphitheater) was filled from the seats, over the lawn and on back to the food stands. It was an amazing feat to fill up such a space when your last original full-length album (La Radiolina) came out four years prior. Despite receiving mixed reviews (mostly in comparison only to his earlier albums, as his music offers a unique blend of punk, island and Latin music). I found, at least found it fine and uncompromising. He has maintained that kinetic, high-speed world-music spirit since his solo debut, 1998’s Clandestino, after leaving his successful and pioneering Paris-based Latin pop-punk band Mano Negra behind.
With only a trio of musicians behind him (guitarist Madjid Fahem, bassist Jean Michel Gambit and drummer Phillipe Tebou [also former Mano Negra]), Chao was still able to do his music justice, last night at the open-air theater in downtown Miami. Often known for having as many as 15 musicians on stage, Chao’s new quartet, named La Ventura (after a song by Mano Negra), powered through the singer/guitarist’s career of well-regarded tunes. Gambit, a bruiser of a Frenchman with tattoos running the course of his arms, but with a large, soft belly, triggered samples with one hand and offered a range of his weird popping sounds with his voice that even a signature “meow” during “L’Hiver Est Là” (Check my video out below), as he kept a steady rhythm and often lead the crowd in clapping along to the music.
Fahem brought the dexterous bounce in the song’s signature guitar lines, bolstered by Tebou’s athletic drumming, whose style reminded me of the Police’s Steward Copeland. One can’t help but thing of the police in their heyday, bouncing on stage in their pop-punk manner, as La Ventura did the same at many points throughout their show. They also both share the unmistakable influence of reggae. Compounding the British ska/punk influence in Manu Chao’s music, is his voice and delivery, which sounds like good old nasally Joe Strummer in the Clash.
All are fine, fun influences that certainly can pull in a vast crowd, and they did, but Manu Chao is far from derivative and more a lover of music that blends in a mix of cultures, offering the perfect soundtrack for a the city of Miami. But also the crowd wanted to dance, and their songs never offered a shortage of energy. Just as soon as you thought they were exploring their slower side, Tebou would lead the track into double-time, beating out the rhythm like a machine gunner. Here are three tracks, which occurred early in the show, that I recorded back-to-back-to-back and captures the unrelenting energy of the group:
In fact, I believe this band were on a quest to wear everyone out. However, Miami proved long pressed for a Manu Chao appearance and they three back as much energy as he gave. Beyond the pit never running out of water to spray into the air, and even the appearance of a giant inflatable killer whale to join in the fray, one audience member executed the most perfect invasion of a performance I had ever seen in my 20+ years of attending rock shows. This young woman stormed the stage to first plant a kiss on Chao’s mouth as he sang, then startled the bassist by popping up on his right side for a hug. Finally, security woke up and began chasing her, as she scurried to the guitarist to practically jump on his back. Dodging the grabbing hands of another security guard, who only snatched air, she was able to partially remove the headphones from the drummer and kiss him on the right cheek. Security finally pulled her away to take her out via the back stage, but she slithered out of their grasp to sprint and leap right off the stage, landing back in the pit from whence she emerged. The stunned and humiliated bouncer stared into the sea of raving fans for a couple of minutes and soon left… probably to go back to sleep. Of course, throughout the stunt, the band powered through without seeming to miss a note (if anyone finds a video of it, let me know, and I’ll share it here!).
“L’Hiver Est Là” was the encore song and audience members were singing along as they filed out of the amphitheater after something like four or five encores, which included the finale of that song at least twice. At the end, Chao told the unmoving crowd: “Y ahora que, Miami? Que vas a hacer, Miami?” (translation: What now, Miami? What you gonna do?). The crowd never budged after every “ending”– even those standing at the far end of the field. Chao even came out when the house lights came up to meet those lingering at the front of the stage.
The night was always electric with energy. At the start of the show, rain meekly drizzled down, but Mother Nature failed to dampen the proceedings. Mr. Pauer stirred up the crowd for Chao. He’s a local guy from Venezuela, but has received global attention for his pioneering work in the world of Latin electronica. His warm-up mash-up mix featuring Latin pop songs mixed with classic rock and ethnic dance beats flowed from his mixer and laptop with infectious ease. People wanted to jump around and dance, and they were geared up by the time Chao appeared with his trio of backing musicians. At that point, the rain gave up, and it was on with an unrelenting live show that carried on for nearly two hours.
Manu Chao offered a great start for what will be a packed month of live shows in South Florida featuring stellar acts (September offering some good concerts in SoFla). In the meantime, La Ventura’s tour continues with a few more dates to go:
09/11 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade Music Park
09/13 – Chicago, IL @ Congress Theater
09/16 – Austin, TX @ Stubbs
09/18 – Austin, TX @ Austin City Limits