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POP MUSIC REVIEW

The many moods of Manu Chao

June 04, 2007|Elijah Wald | Special to The Times

Manu Chao gives the impression of being at home anywhere in the world, and Saturday night, it was obvious that he's especially comfortable in Los Angeles. Singing and talking in an easy mix of Spanish and English and shifting between lilting reggae and pounding adrenaline rock, he faced an audience of 11,000 fans at the L.A. Sports Arena who matched both his internationalism and his musical range. They applauded his political statements in both languages, yelled along with football-cheer enthusiasm on the fast songs, and waved matches in the air as he sang his bittersweet border song "Welcome to Tijuana."

Raised in France, the son of exiles from Fascist Spain, Chao became a voice of the border-defying working class with 1998's "Clandestino," his first solo album after years with the global punk band Mano Negra. His current tour is supposedly in support of an album due in September, but he avoided new material in favor of immigrant anthems such as "Desaparecido" and "El Viento." The crowd sang along as he gently murmured the latter's litany of matched phrases, "El hambre viene, el hombre se va" (Hunger comes, the man goes), then shouted responses on the pounding reprises of "Radio Bemba," the title song of his 2002 live disc.

The instrumental mix was dominated by two excellent percussionists and raw, minimalist electric guitar, which took on touches of flamenco in his four-song, semi-acoustic middle set. Chao shifted moods from song to song, often even midsong, as on the surprise final number, the Mexican classic "Volver, Volver." His voice had an aching sweetness on the first verse, crashed into raucous speed-punk for a couple of choruses, relaxed back into nostalgic ranchera, then amped up for an ear-punishing coda. An extended first encore included the wry reggae-rap of "Bongo Bong." The second encore was a foregone conclusion, with fans still yelling for more as the band lined up for a final bow.

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