austin city limits – forum/blog

Intern’s Perspective: Manu Chao


Zach Patton is a twenty-two year old UT Austin graduate and psuedointern at Austin City Limits who likes talking about music, finding new music, discovering old music, and going to shows/concerts (especially the free ACL ones). He also enjoys unsuccessfully lobbying to get bands that he likes booked for ACL tapings.

2:05 I arrive in the studio only to find that Manu Chao and his band are already into their rehearsal, blazing through what I believe is « La Primavera. » This is one of those tapings that I’ve been anticipating since last year, when he was slated to tape a show for season 33 before eventually pulling out. Of course, now that he is one of the headliners for this year’s Austin City Limits Festival, the timing was perfect for him to come back and do a taping. I’ve been a big fan since I was introduced to his music a few years ago, and I think this show is going to take a lot of people by surprise.

2:08 It looks like there are seven people in tonight’s band: Manu Chao on vocals/guitar, another guitarist, a bassist, a trumpet player, a keyboardist, and two drummers.

2:14 As the band storms through « Politik Kills, » I can’t help but think about the significance of this show from an international perspective. One of the goals of ACL, as it continues to evolve, is to feature unique, fresh artists regardless of where they come from–a musical globalization of sorts. Who better to reflect this evolution than Manu Chao? I’m going to venture a guess that most of the people that come tonight are going to have no clue who he is, and wouldn’t recognize him if they walked by him on the street. But the fact is that he’s an international superstar whose record sales worldwide have reportedly eclipsed the 10 million mark. He is wildly successful in his native country of France, as well as other European countries. And after travelling through South America and hearing his music everywhere I went, I can say with some certainty that he’s a pretty big deal there as well. That said, he has yet to truly break into the U.S. market in the sense that he has garnered only a small fraction of the notoriety he enjoys in areas like Europe or South America. However, perhaps this taping–coupled with his U.S. tour and a couple of headlining festival appearances–will be the catalyst that allows for him to add the U.S.A. to his lengthy list of conquered territories. I guess we’ll see…

2:24 Some random observations:

• Count me in the camp that I mentioned earlier. Despite being a fan for years, I had no idea what Chao actually looked like until about twenty minutes ago. I must say, it looks like there are a lot of miles on that body. I’m not sure how old he is, but regardless, I’m pretty sure he’s older than his age would suggest. (Edit: I looked it up post-show and found that he is forty-seven years old. I’ll stand by my statement that he’s an old-looking 47).

• The bassist is also a pretty damn good beat boxer, as he has taken a break from the bass to spit some fire.

• Apparently the studio, which seems to consistently stay in nigh sub-arctic temperatures, is a little too hot for the band’s main drummer. He’s decided to go shirtless for the duration of the rehearsal.

2:34 The lead guitarist makes the switch from electric to acoustic, and busts out some beautiful classical guitar play during a break in the rehearsal. My mistake, it actually turns out to be part of their next song, an acoustic ditty featuring only the guitar, trumpet, and Chao’s vocals. While the band jams onstage, Chao casually walks off the stage to mingle with director Gary Menotti.

2:40 The rehearsal comes to a close, much to my dismay. I overhear producer Leslie Nichols say something about how there can’t be a tape change during tonight’s show because apparently there is no point in the band’s set where they stop long enough to allow for one. It sounds like tonight’s show is going to be pretty action-packed. If they put on as good a show for the 300+ people tonight as they did for the 25 of us or so that were there for rehearsal, then tonight is going to be fantastic.

7:45 I arrive in the studio and take a spot near the front of the stage–I want a good view of this show. The crowd seems to be pretty young. I wonder, how many of them have heard of Manu Chao? Regardless, I hope they’re ready to dance.

8:15 Standing so close has already proven to be a simultaneously fantastic and terrible idea. On one hand, I’m in the thick of the action in what I can already tell is going to be one of the best crowds I’ve ever seen at one of these tapings. On the other, there’s so much dancing and movement that it’s going to be hard for me to write much of anything. But I guess there’s no turning back now…

8:21 Rarely is the crowd at these tapings ensnared by the musical energy of an artist from the get-go, but that is definitely the case tonight. Even the audience that is in the perimeter, « seated » areas are still standing and dancing their asses off. « La Primavera » gets the crowd to the highest point so far, though I think it’s going to get even crazier.

8:38 « Clandestino » sparks a random guy in a T-shirt prominently displaying a marijuana leaf to run to the front of the stage and start dancing his ass off. I guess his shirt is appropriate, given that marijuana seems to somehow find its way into a majority of the band’s songs. This one is no exception, with Chao and his band shouting « Marijuana, Illegal! » at the end of each chorus.

8:50 This crowd is insane! I don’t think I’ve seen a show where the entire crowd is standing and dancing for the whole show. The energy level of the band has definitely been matched by the crowd, which sadly isn’t always the case (see: My Morning Jacket’s taping). However, when it does happen, it’s a sight to behold! My notes are almost indecipherable because it’s near impossible to write anything intelligible while getting bumped around by a raucous crowd.

8:55 Parent of the century: the guy next to me brought his young daughter to see Manu Chao! How cool is that to be able to say you saw this show when you were a little kid? She’s enjoying it just as much as everyone else–dancing and pumping her fists with the rest of the crowd.

9:07 As I’m writing this, a mosh pit breaks out in front of the stage, and the crowd continues to get more fervent and intense.

9:14 Chao and the band take the stage for their encore performance. As the show winds down, I find a great way to summarize this night: the floor is so sticky that it’s actually hard to move once you’ve stood in one place for too long. The frantic dancing of the crowd means that the free beer given out at the beginning of the show is now all over the floor.

9:26 The show comes to an end, but not before this final nugget: As photographer Scott Newton weasels his way to the front of the stage trying to get that one last shot, he’s nailed in the head by Vance Holmes’s Jib Arm (this is the camera attached to the long arm that swings over the standing audience). It’s a dangerous job, this ACL.

But seriously, this was among the best ACL tapings I’ve seen, and certainly featured the best crowd of any taping I’ve attended. Kudos to Manu Chao and the band for putting on a fantastic show, and the crowd for responding with unbridled energy and passion. Until next time…