15/09/11

CHICAGO – Manu Chao at Congress Theater

Live review + photo gallery

Manu Chao at the Congress Theater

Manu Chao at the Congress Theater – Photo: Max Herman

The contrast between the huge worldwide popularity of Manu Chao and his low visibility in the English-speaking USA is astounding; his musical and cultural influence today is no less than Bob Marley’s once was, but many non-Latino listeners here have never heard of him. You have to wonder if it isn’t another sign of American cultural and political decline when an artist this vital can slip under the radar in the United States. Perhaps music this overtly political lacks appeal to a nation that has seen such a rocky decade. We’d rather share a giggle about Rebecca Black than hear a remarkable ode to the plight of illegal immigrants like “Clandestino,” judging from the YouTube views.

That’s not to say that a Manu Chao show isn’t about enjoying yourself. Chao may wear his politics on his sleeve, but this is not sober music. His most popular tunes include crowd-pleasing, druggy pop songs such as “Me Gustas Tu” and “Bongo Bong” (recently covered by Robbie Williams, who devilishly emphasized the sexy line “Hear me when I come” in his synth-heavy version). But “Clandestino” and “Welcome To Tijuana,” which both address the currently thorny issue of illegal immigration, are equally popular, and just as fun.

Onstage at the Congress Theater Tuesday night, Chao made a rare Chicago appearance (his last was at Aragon in 2007, he also played Lollapalooza in 2006) with a stripped-down band. Shirtless with an acoustic guitar, and flanked by only a drummer, bassist and electric guitarist, he ran through a sweaty, high-energy set. This vet of French new wave acts Hot Pants and Mano Negra makes restless music that’s equal parts the Clash and Latin street busker. He sings in Spanish, English, French, Italian and Portuguese, among other languages. There’s a certain amount of irony that this crusader against the consequences of globalization is arguably its most perfect product.

The restlessness of Manu Chao is best expressed by his unique habit of re-sampling his own work. “Bongo Bong” and “Je Ne T’aime Plus” feature identical music, but different lyrics in different languages, the former a goofy feel-good party tune in English, the latter a sad lament of lost love in French (with the refrain “je ne t’aime plus mon amour/je ne t’aime plus tous les jours,” or “I do not love you anymore my love/I don’t love you anymore everyday”). They work equally well, and they even work at the same time; the aforementioned Robbie Williams cover actually mashes the two songs together. Often during Chao’s set it was unclear what song he was actually playing, or unclear if it actually mattered. The tunes all seemed to blend together, and one had the impression that new juxtapositions of previous work were being brewed on the spot.

But every once in a while, Chao would pause to take a breath and then play one of his certified hits, such as “La Primavera,” with its cute meowing hook and lazy reggae rhythm. It sounded like a Police song from another universe, and the audience shouted along to the refrain “que hora son, mi corazon” (“what time is it, my heart?”) and got even more excited when some of the lyrics from “Me gustas tu” slipped in, as if they had fit there all along.

This show was very high on punk energy, with almost every song eventually switching to double-time and a shouted “hey hey hey.” The crowd ate it up, pogoing when necessary, or moshing (the entire floor of the Congress was a sweaty affair). By the time the third encore began (Chao was pulled back onstage by a rousing “Ole Ole” football chant), the bouncers gave up, allowing throngs of fans onstage as Chao screamed “You crazy, Chicago! You crazy, Chicago!” When they tried to separate the kids who were hugging Chao, they found themselves separating Chao from the kids, since he was hugging them back. His lyrics may be staunchly anti-American at times, but he once said, “I always criticize the government, not the people.” The people clearly love him for it.

Merci de remplir tous les champs




  1. SUPERESTEPHY - 

    i was very lucky to attend the show in germany munich, in june this year at the tollwood festival…. it was incredible, there was so much love and respect in the air, next to the explosive energy… my friends have attended the show last night in chicago (where i used to live with my mexican familia) and i was feeling every second and minute with them even across such distance :-) gracias gracias garcias viva manu <3

  2. JAVIER - 

    Vamos Estudiantes Chile a seguir Luchando…Viva Chile Mierda

  3. ARACELI ALVARADO - 

    I love Manu Chao! His music is the best! His show in chicago was awesome! I cant also believe how he comes to small places like the congress theater in the USA? but i must say its to my advantage that way i can see a great performance. His music is not played at all in the spanish or english stations here in chicago, but i must say he does have a lot of mexican fans. I also believe his concert was not promoted enough. I happen to check his website and saw his concert date and i live just blocks from the location and saw no posters or heard nothing on the radio? The concert was sold out. All i have to say « great show the best » Manu please come back soon… even if its a small place, chicago welcomes you! Saludos!

  4. JOFFRE - 

    Ca s’serait bien que les articles soient traduit aussi en francais! A baye ISTYZ

  5. MARTIN - 

    MIAMI SHOW WAS THE BEST EVER !!
    AMAZING ENERGY !!

  6. LUIS - 

    it was incredible as a personal experience, i live in saint louis , missouri 5 hrs away from chicago, i skip work for 2 days to be able to see MANU.
    i would say that this event was amazing, the energy, the croud, the message and the band.
    thanks manu for that amazing time i shared with friends and family…….your music make people open their eyes and step in real ground,…..

  7. FIFI TRIXABELLE - 

    DANG! SO very sorry I missed this opportunity! Hopefully, he will come back soon. It is a concert I won’t miss twice!!

  8. PABLITO - 

    Any chance of a gig in Sydney, Australia? Por favor. ;-)

  9. SOPHIE - 

    Quand je lis tous ces messages, c’est clair que Manu est UNIQUE, il a un carisme de fou, moi perso, je l’ai vu +fois en concerts et c’est à chaque fois une énergie incroyable, mais il faut dire qu’il est bien entouré avec Gambeat, Madjid et garban, il manque David pour que ce soit le top, en tout les cas, gracias à toute l’équipe car vous êtes des mecs géniales, c’est mortel…

  10. SOPHIE - 

    Je vous kiffe grave, première fois que j’accroche autant pour un groupe, pourtant j’en ai vu beaucoup d’artistes en concerts, mais avec Manu et ses musiciens, c’est de la bombe grave!!!

  11. SOPHIE - 

    J’ai oublié, c’est pour quand tes concerts en France??? ton public français t’est fidèle et il n’est pas du tout récompensé, c’est pas logique tout ça, il faudrait y réfléchir et mettre en place une belle tournée, quand on est un artiste comme toi, il faut savoir faire plaisir à tous, c’est important!!!

  12. RAULITO - 

    Es momento de regresar a argentina!!!!! Te estamos esperando

  13. JESS - 

    Thank you Manu and the band for coming to the States. I flew from the Western US to see the show – and it was well worth every second. It is amazing to me that Manu is still so unknown here, but I think it is mostly because of the language barrier and that most Americans don’t try to understand something if it is not in English! For me, I don’t understand most of Manu’s lyrics, but understand on a deeper level so it doesn’t matter. I feel very lucky to have gotten to see this show, the one other time I’ve seen him in the States. Please keep coming back!!!!!!! We are spreading the word, and as I’m sure everyone who was there could feel, your fans that are here are very passionate!

  14. JAVIER - 

    Hello Brother!! Que pas a nenn! haber cuando vienes por la Peninsula Iberica, y te haces un Clandestino por Terrasa y nos deleitas con tu directo, jeje. Dale caña a los Yankis!! Cuidate Fenomeno.

  15. FERNANDO GARCIA - 

    Hola¡ felicidades por vuestra musica.Quiero saber cuando sera el proximo concierto en españa y donde. Un gran abrazo. Gracias.

  16. DOLORES DE LEJOS - 

    Los Clandestinos que viven en Estados Unidos se llenan de Esperanza y candor en este tipo de conciertos con tanta energia que queda despues de correr y correr, trabajar, sobrevivir para poder existir como un fantasma en una gran ciudad.

  17. JUAN ORTEGA - 

    HOLA MANU ESTUBO CHINGON EL CONCIERTO YO VENGO DEL OYOYO DEL DF EL DF ESTUBO CONTIGO ESE DIA AVER CUANDO AN DAS OTRA VEZ POR AI OYES Q PASO CON LOS OTROS DOS Q FALTARON EL TROPETISTA Y EL BATERISTA VIERAN SACADO MAS SABOR MANU BUENO ESTUBO POCA MADRE Y T ESPERA MEXICO MEXICO T QUEIERE YO SE PORQ NO PUEDES ENTRA PERO ALGUN DIA CAIRA EL IMPERIO EN MEXICO BUENO ESO ESPERO GRACIAS MANU SALUDOS DESDE CHICAGO

  18. CECILIA - 

    i was so lucky to attend to this concert, it was the show for me.. i am such a huge fan of Mani, it was an amazing experience been in Chicago and had the opportunity to see him.. I’m from Ecuador and we haven’t see you in 15 years… Hopefully u are coming this year1! l ove u manu so much GOD BLESS YOU ALWAYS

  19. CECILIA - 

    una de las mejors experiencias d emi vidaaa ir a tu conciertoo te amoooo

  20. ANTHONY - 

    It looks so calm in that place, a nice place to enjoy and relax.I’m sure you guys had fun afterward. I never been to Thailand but I heard good spots to visit there .nice one mommy!

  21. SHROOMFACTORY - 

    I met the girl I’m in love with at that concert! =)