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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Manu Chao, last night at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2007 at 1:31 PM

click to enlarge manuok10.gif

By scanning the ranks of the Manu Chao nation, you quickly get the sense that the musical superstar’s faithful hail from the set who have a vague sense that globalization is bad, Bush is the devil, and the Zapatistas are pretty bad ass, but, hell, while the powers-that-be continue to repress and depress us into oblivion, “Tequila, Sexo, y Marijuana” is an awfully good credo in the short run.

By scanning the ranks of the Manu Chao nation, you quickly get the sense that the musical superstar’s faithful hail from the set who have a vague sense that globalization is bad, Bush is the devil, and the Zapatistas are pretty bad ass, but, hell, while the powers-that-be continue to repress and depress us into oblivion, “Tequila, Sexo, y Marijuana” is an awfully good credo in the short run.

It’s a type this city has plenty of, and so the San Francisco contingent packed into the sold-out Bill Graham Civic Auditorium Wednesday evening for the rare opportunity to see the French-born son of Spanish immigrants play on U.S. soil with his band, the Radio Bemba Sound System.

After a mostly lukewarm crowd response to opener Firme, from San Jose, an ever-ebullient Manu Chao took the stage and blazed through an over two-hour-long set that hit a good number of the classics: “Mr. Bobby,” “Clandestino,” “La Primavera,” “Me Gustas Tu,” and “Bienvenida a Tijuana.” The reefer fumes wafted strong from the second song on.

While Manu Chao has garnered frenzied support through Europe and Latin America, the vast majority of English-speaking gringos haven’t yet caught on. Yeah, there were a couple Polo-shirted dudes that looked like they got lost on the way to a frat kegger, but the general admission floor mostly hosted a multi-culti blend of folks who have an affinity for woven shoulder bags, stand-outs being the Bolivian guy in the Maradona Argentine national team jersey, the funkster in the Mexican wrestling mask and plaid pants, and the girl in her poncho and huarache sandals.

It would seem to be a “free to be you and me” vibe, but my friend Chris Strayhorn, aka Chris Sinister on the indie hip hop circuit, quickly learned he wasn’t in acceptable Manu Chao garb when he walked in a tie and a vest from a meeting with studio executives. A guy with blonde dreads gave him the once over and said, “You look a little dressed up, Bro.”

Chris marveled at the number of folks there for a band even a music junkie such as himself didn’t know a thing about until he searched them on YouTube: “I don’t very often feel left out, but I feel like I’ve been living under a rock. I don’t know who the fuck these guys are.”

He of course was in the minority. Eco -- Spanish for, you guessed it, “Echo” -- looked like she just stepped out of the Summer of Love and stopped skipping in a circle with a friend long enough to say why she considers herself a “Super Fan”: “His message is so powerful,” she exclaimed. “You have to understand where he’s coming from to understand his music. No fuzz, no glam, no sugar coating. It lets the message come through.”

There was definitely no sugarcoating when one apparently random fan wrangled his way onto stage, stripped off all his clothes, and jumped maniacally, the twig and berries reveling in all their bouncing glory, before dropping to his knees before Manu Chao. The bemused artist grabbed his worshipper’s raised arm in appreciation, before the nudist was herded off stage by security.

And while props go to all audience members keeping up with Manu Chao’s constant genre and tempo changes — segueing from punk-style pogo dancing to ska skanking to a laid-back reggae groove — the most creative dance move accolades go to the band’s keyboardist, who would run in place, pumping knees up high and stretching arms straight out to the side, his mullet bobbing up and down. That’s when he wasn’t punching himself on the head.

Manu Chao found a rapt audience for his political statements, his talk about “They think the solution is to fight violence with violence” or lambasting of the “puta frontera” garnering major crowd appreciation. Fans lured the Radio Bemba folks back on stage for two encores - Manu Chao reaching back to his Mano Negra band days for "Mala Vida” and “Sidi H’bibi."

Manu’s heavily Spanish lyrics favored the bilingual crowd members. As a bearded guy name Daniel to my right remarked after a hyper-speed version of “Que Paso Que Paso”: “I don’t know what it was called, but it was fast.” Right on, man. --Lauren Smiley

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Matt Stroud

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