Friday, December 17, 2010

Backlog blog #5: Manu Chao plays Seattle

Manu Chao has long been one of my favorite musicians. His were the first songs I could sing all the way through in Spanish, I have very fond memories of my Spanish boyfriend singing me Manu Chao songs when I studied abroad in Sevilla, and I never tire of hearing the same albums over and over again.

So, even though I am famous for disliking live music, I have now been to two Manu Chao concerts in the same calendar year.

I had the opportunity to see Manu Chao last year in Argentina and I jumped on it - taking a bunch of Americans and one Brasilian with me - because he so rarely plays in the U.S. It was a memorable show and I was grateful to have seen him.

Imagine my surprise when, on the first day walking to work from my new Capitol hill apartment in October, I passed the Paramount Theater and its placard announcing Manu Chao for the very next week. I quite literally did a double take, even rubbed my eyes to make sure it wasn't a mirage. Sure enough, he was doing several shows in the U.S. on the west coast, and Seattle was his first stop. Of course I had to go to his first Seattle show ever!

The natural choice for a friend to accompany me was my co-worker Ilona, a woman who loves languages, foreign culture, and a good beat. I bought us tickets at the box office and we counted down the days until it was show time.

The show was fantastic. I couldn't help but compare the two shows, and here are my thoughts.


Energy. That man brings an insane, inhuman amount of energy to every show he does. This is especially evident in his jumpy movements and the frequent beating of the microphone against his heart and head, which actually is a pretty cool sound effect.

Repeated sounds. At each show, Manu and his crew seem to zero in on a short, catchy riff that they repeat, and repeat, and repeat... in Argentina this went on for nearly an hours' worth of encores. To be honest, it was getting pretty old by the end of what was a 3.5 hour show.

Crazy long encores. So, so long. Like, almost as long as the show itself, both times. Though he kind of cheats by using that repeated riff... Oh, ooooh, oh, OH, OH, oh.

Price. Totally reasonable in both cities.


Band size. In Seattle, it was just Manu + his lead guitarist and a drummer. In Argentina, there must have been 10-12 musicians on stage. Still, the energy level was incredible.

Venue. In Argentina, thousands of people packed into a free-for-all stadium with minimal security and virtually no rules - smoke 'em if you got 'em kind of scene. Compare this with the uber-anal Paramount theater, where the employees seem to go out of their way to destroy as much of the show's magic for you as possible.

Each venue had its advantages and disadvantages. In Argentina, it was crazy and awesome and you could go anywhere you could maneuver yourself. Of course, this also involved a lot of pushing and illegal drug activities, and in a closed stadium that much cigarette smoke was a disgusting detractor.

In Seattle, you bought your seats ahead of time and even though the open, downstairs area wasn't anywhere CLOSE to full by Argentina standards, the "I-think-my-job-is-really-important" Paramount ushers wouldn't let you budge from where you were assigned. Hell, they wouldn't even let you inch into the aisle to DANCE a little, rushing at you with a flashlight in the face to corral you back to your proper place. And, the stage crew was embarrassingly bad, constantly interfering with the band. I thought Manu Chao was going to pop one of them when after about 3 altercations (including one where Manu actually tripped over one of them in his way) the stage crew guy wouldn't hand him his guitar, apparently fiddling with a string for about 2 solid minutes ... are you kidding, guy?? It was so bad I was actually embarrassed, like blushing and groaning and fidgeting uncomfortably embarrassed for the impression Seattle's stage crew was causing. But, the air was clean and I wasn't scared for my life.

Shorter sets. In Argentina, there are no limits to how long a show can go, and with a crowd of 10,000+ that can be a long time. Although his show in Seattle was certainly long by Seattle standards, it was nowhere near the almost too-long show he did in the south.

Dance crowd. Of course Argentina blows Seattle out of the water for the dance scene, because EVERYONE DANCES. Like, duh. Why go to a Manu Chao concert if you aren't going to dance? Passive, boring Seattle was a little more restrained up in the balcony seats, but some of us were definitely going crazy (much to the dismay of those sitting near us.) I have to give it to Seattle, though: those on the main floor actually had a mosh pit going, and a pretty solid one at that (is there anything Seattle goers won't mosh to?), plus several successful crowd surfers.

In short, I was delighted to be at both shows and particularly pleased to have two very different Manu concerts under my belt. You better believe that if he's ever in a city when I'm there again, I'll continue adding notches to my Manu Chao belt!

And, thus ends my backlog - I'm finally caught up. Next you can expect something about Christmas, and then I'm off to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico for 12 days where I'll spend New Year's and my birthday. I'll blog from the road if possible, but if not you know you can count on a 'super comprehensive' (aka stupidly long) blog with photos on my return.

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