Philly – Manu Chao at Penn’s Landing: A joyous show in any language
« Ah, your French is very good! » Manu Chao said to the giddy Festival Pier crowd before him at Penn’s Landing on Friday night.
And this polyglot pop-rock-reggae-punk-plus performer – of Spanish parentage, raised in France – would know. Chao, who turned 50 this summer, has been singing his songs multilingually for decades, routinely connecting with audiences everywhere via word and sound. It started in the ’80s, with the groundbreaking Mano Negra – the Clash-informed Euro-punk-abilly group he formed with a brother and cousin in Paris, eventually disbanding after migrating to Madrid – and through innumerable collaborations in various locales, including Tijuana, Buenos Aires, and Mali.
Over the last 15 years, the peripatetic artist has been charismatically fronting his Radio Bemba group, a tight-knit if fluid ensemble that can swell in size. Chao is currently touring in a comparatively stripped-down quartet called La Ventura, in support of his live 2009 double-CD Baionarena, a career-spanning blowout concert recorded in Bayonne, southwest France (in the Basque country, which straddles the Spanish border). At the Festival Pier, the diminutive current resident of Barcelona, in signature cap and strumming his well-traveled acoustic guitar, was flanked by his contrastingly hulking longtime cohort Jean Michel Gambit – on bass and with the quirky sampling crucial to Chao’s sound – as well as sharp-shooting electric guitar whiz Madjid Fahem and, returning on drums from years ago in Mano Negra, the energetic Phillipe Teboul.
Chao was complimenting the strikingly diverse Philly audience on the enthusiastic chorus-sing-along participation that he’d requested for the encore « L’hiver est là » (a frisky « French winter song » sporting some Ennio Morricone-quoting spaghetti-western guitar licks). But really, he’d long since captured the crowd, which had brought the band back onstage by singing a hooky « whoa oh-oh-oh » chant from a previous song. Although that vocal refrain was from « Tadibobeira, » a new-ish number in cross-lingual « Portuñol, » it sounded as familiar – and as irresistibly pleasing – as similar singing on classic Misfits or Naked Raygun tunes. Such is Manu Chao’s appeal: colorfully multicultural, yes; righteously left-leaning lyrics promoting peace, love, self-determination – indeed. But it’s the rousing, party-stoking joy that he kicks up, as he did on more than 25 songs Friday, that makes his fans so passionate.