photo by Rob Trucks
Prospect Park Bandshell
By Rob Harvilla
Manu Chao sure loves the word corazón. (Spanish for “heart,” for those of you who didn’t spend their high school years trying to translate “My Name Is Prince” into “Me Llamo Prince.”) (Y yo soy funky.) Corazón, thankfully, clearly loves Manu Chao back—three graceful syllables that elegantly fuse with his booming hey-there’s-a-keg-over-here bellow, a sweet burst of sentimentality in the midst of party-time trilingual rants delivered with the joy and populist zeal of election victory speeches. You’ve never seen so much fist-pumping in your life.
So the word shows up in nearly every Manu Chao song. Here’s another thing that shows up in every Manu Chao song: a double-time hardcore polka breakdown. Whether a midtempo reggae jammer, a tender bilingual ballad, or a jovial Clash City Rocker—and whether sung in English, Spanish, French, or some combo thereof (he was born in France, to Spanish parents)—every tune eventually breaks down to a manic but cuddly oompahoompahoompahoompah, wherein the fist-pumping reaches biblical levels, both in the crowd and onstage. For his part, Manu, flanked by two lovable shirtless brutes on bass and guitar, respectively, does a little dance routine—they chant the chorus, take five giant steps backward, pause, take five giant steps forward, chant the chorus, repeat. This is often accompanied by fist-pumping. A drummer and a percussionist wale away behind them, along with a keyboardist whose parts only involve one hand at a time so as to facilitate his own constant fist-pumping, usually accompanied by jumping. It’s all very Andrew W.K.
And lo, do the Prospect Park masses throw down, shaking their various thangs in distinct and wondrous and hyperactive ways—picture the dance-party scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas, heavy on The Linus. (Run in place, bob head from side to side.) Manu is a repeat offender here and a huge draw with whom Craigslist scalpers are intimately familiar. Whereas his tunes lope lazily on record (peruse his work with Mano Negra, or a solo career last prominent here thanks to 2001’s Proxima Estación: Esperanza), onstage they all succumb to oompahoompahoompahoompah delirium, a call-and-response anthem template that produces goofy, infectious jams like “Me Gustas Tu.” (He likes you, you see, in addition to his guitar, and marijuana.) He’s got a new one out this fall—lead single “Rainin’ in Paradize” is a fairly straightforward new-wave rocker, with the sharp-voweled bite of a vintage Police tune. But live the tunes all melt into one amorphous jam, great fun all around and quite ideal for people-watching. (On the first truly hot summer night, though, hydration is an issue—lotsa security guards rushing to the bar to snag bottles of water for wobbly revelers.) Manu is also enjoying himself, judging by the 15 to 20 minutes solid he spends waving goodbye to the crowd amid a fake-ending–fattened encore that felt like it took 45 minutes, excessive but understandably so, Manu at center stage, earnest smile on his face, pounding the microphone against his corazón.
Manu Chao headlines the Prospect Park Bandshell again tonight Wednesday, June 27. Ticket says 6:30, but show time is 8 pm—and it’s
hella mucho sold out.
photos by Rob Trucks