Manu Chao at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin, 27 July 2015
It might seem irreverent to posit Manu Chao’s satiny yellow shirt as a definitive characteristic of his Dublin performance; and yet it just about works. It captures the euphoric, brash and delightfully incongruous mood that pervaded miserably rainy Kilmainham.
The Paris-born polymath of genres brought a welcome slice of sunshiney vibes with his La Ventura show, and the gig ended up a veritable dance party under the gloomy grey sky. With a semi-mosh pit of people skanking with reckless abandon and Pride flags waving in the front row, this was the wonderful kind of gig where seemingly everyone had a smile on their face.
There was an article by academic Vivien Goldman which described Chao as a punk, but in terms of his solo recordings it’s hard to look past the laidback ambience of his oeuvre (regardless of the often political subject matter). Seeing him live, however, one might concede to Goldman’s observation: Chao is very much a bold, upbeat showman, with him and his surprisingly ska-style band running around the stage with a glorious sense of defiance. All his songs gain a joyous intensity in their live performance, with Clandestino and Me Gustas Tu being particular highlights.
There aren’t any standard rules to the gig – Chao is a man of few words between songs, predominantly repeating “Thank you, Dublin!” whilst raising his clenched fists in the air. His method of crowd interaction instead includes making beats by slamming his microphone on his bare chest – something that is equal parts impressive and terrifying. The 54-year-old takes the appearance of what appears to be a completely random woman on the stage trying to dance with a bottle of water on her head in his stride, and security only step-in when she’s been up there for a song or two.
The points between one song ending and another starting are difficult to figure out with almost non-stop tunes, and this confusion is exacerbated given the number of his songs which borrow from one another. There are certain riffs which come back again and again, with the crowd chanting along to the uplifting, fun brass melodies. You get the feeling that this isn’t so much a show people attend to catch particular tracks, but rather to soak up a particular atmosphere; and that’s something Chao and his band manage to provide spectacularly.
Indeed, going back to that striking bright yellow shirt, Manu Chao’s garb brings to mind a carnival. Fittingly, that’s exactly what this night at Kilmainham ends up being.