Manu Chao La Ventura : Portland

Concert Review: Manu Chao

October 24, 2010 4:26 PM


On the night Manu Chao played Portland’s Crystal Ballroom, 33 miners who had been trapped under the Chilean earth for more than two months were finally lifted to safety via a tiny capsule sent down into the subterranean lair where they spent their days waiting for escape. I’m not going to make a half-assed analogy comparing Chao’s Spanish ancestry to the Spanish spoken in Chile. But while the world united to watch the first of the miners emerge from the ground, I felt a similar solidarity in a city known for its predominantly white, hipster music scene.

On most typical concert nights, you get a bunch of white kids passively standing around or dancing about in face paint and animal head hats. However, as Chao, lead guitarist Madjid Fahem and drummer Philippe Teboul played a stripped-down, two-and-a-half hour set, I have never felt as connected with the other people in the room around me.

But anyone expecting the head-trip-cum-folk of Chao’s beloved records Clandestino and Prómixa Estación: Esperanza were in for a big surprise as Chao and friends controlled the crowd, alternating between chill, flamenco-tinged songs and flat-out assaults of energy. On Chao’s albums, songs are littered with effects like ringing telephones, distant voices and retro video game noises. Stripped of the effects, the songwriting filtered to the forefront, even if some members of the crowd couldn’t tell when Chao the polyglot switched from Spanish to Portuguese to French, sometimes within the same refrain. Qué hora son en Washington indeed!

But plenty of the crowd knew all the words, singing along with « Desaparecido » and « Mr. Bobby, » fists in the air, bodies pushing and bouncing off one another. Chao and Fahem shed their shirts early in the set, keeping pace with the frenetic energy of the audience with machine gun paced songs like « El Hoyo » and « Politik Kills. »

And the encores, the glorious encores! Chao and friends must have left the stage and come back five times, working the crowd up into a gentle frenzy. People invaded the stage, hugging Chao, who put his arm around these uninvited guests and jumped along with their enthusiasm, his red headband and short pants bobbing along. By the end of the show, Chao led the crowd in a singalong that eschewed language altogether, creating a triumphant chant that knew no borders.

The last time I saw Chao was in a big field during Bonnaroo where scads of dirty hippies jumped to the music in unison. Here, I was up at the front, inches away from a guy who sells out stadiums in Europe. Well, selling out the Crystal is nothing to sniff at either.

If you listen to Chao’s lyrics there is a strong political undercurrent in his words. Chao, however, remained quiet between his songs, rarely addressing the crowd. That’s fine, there was no need for grandstanding, especially with such a good feeling running through the crowd. In the back of my mind, I remembered the miners being pulled to safety. What a glorious evening.

After the show, my friend and I waited for the crowd to clear and the staff swept up the floor. As we started to leave, we passed a couple who stood next to me for most of the show. The guy and I locked eyes, smiled and shook hands. It takes a lot for a show to instill camaraderie between total strangers. What a great feeling.

by David Harris

Manu Chao at the Crystal Ballroom on 10/13/10

by David Beardsley

With Chervona busking out front, Manu Chao and his two-member band brought the La Ventura tour to a sold-out Crystal Ballroom for the second of just four West Coast (and US) dates-a show that was completely 21 and over on the floor with just a handful of underagers standing in the balcony above. Beating chest with the mic to simulate his thumping corazón and stimulating clapping, the shirtless, colorful set was mostly sung in Spanish with bursts of riotous shout-a-longs to Manu Chao’s distinctive rallying cry as he reworked and re-energized old favorites to induce frenzied jumping, bobbing, and fist pumping to the ubiquitous heys.

Needless to say, Portland was well-lubricated and dancing all night long as the Latin-drenched vibes filled the atmosphere with an electric jive, replete with plenty of frenetic punk rock flair, classical Spanish guitar strumming, Mariachi-inspired choruses, chilled-out reggae bounces, and clouds of marijuana smoke wafting through the air.

A crimson headband tied around his forehead and trailing down his back, Manu Chao gave his all, truly a genuine performer and performance. Leaving the stage breathless and dripping, passionately ravaged after a recurring, never-ending chant, Manu Chao returned for one last exhalation… and then another and another. Briefly reprising « El Hoyo » before repeating for the second time, « Portland! Last one for the road! » he honestly hugged and clutched a few ecstatic fans that managed to sneak their way on stage following the woah o-o-o’s.

And the ringing in your ears could’ve fooled you, but there were more woah o-o-o’s that continued to echo outside down Burnside.