Manu Chao is a Mexican jumping bean. In concert, that is. And Monday night, at Terminal 5 in New York, Chao demonstrated this remarkable feat, which completely undermines any evidence of his 50 years. A Chao concert is, if nothing else, an exercise in perspiration and exultation. Intertwined with two hours of relentless music that has become its own lingua franca (i.e. blues, reggae, ska, chansons, mariachi, salsa, etc sung in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese etc.), politics and human liberty are always part of its nucleus. Whereas Bono and other proselytizers like to play revolutionary, Chao — who genuinely looks, and could play, the part — eschewed the spotlight for five minutes in the middle of his set to provide a platform for two young Spanish-speaking activists to present their cause. (I believe it was an opprobrium of Wall Street). This small gesture was compellingly civic, rather than commercial.
Mr. Chao was backed by his trusty three-piece, La Ventura. Outfitted like the Chili Peppers, they followed Chao in lock-step, musically and physically. Opening with a resounding “Mr. Bobby”, they cruised through more recent material, like “Politik Kills”. Slowing down for “Clandestino” only meant the double-time break came later — a pattern that repeated itself every other tune. “Iron, Lion, Zion”, towards the end of the night, received the same treatment. Under the bottled-water rain, however, and constant start/stop mind games with the audience (is the song and/or set over or not?), no one seemed to particularly care.
In a schedule change, Gogol Bordello opened (I arrived too late). Perhaps inevitably, its lead singer, Eugene Hütz, lead the night’s constant volley of crowd-surfing to raucous approval.