June 25, 2014
It’s not often that I promote a project’s Kickstarter campaign, but there’s no denying my personal connection to the subject of Little Haiti Rock City (here’s a link to the campaign). Though I hardly know the filmmakers, director Franco Parente and producer Angel Eva Markoulis certainly share my sentiments for the bar in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami called Churchill’s Hideaway, which was once run by British ex-pat Dave Daniels.
Daniels, a former pal of the famed BBC DJ John Peel, could certainly be considered one of the original Miami hipsters. His anything-goes attitude to the musicians he allowed on stage even allowed me to get on stage to lash at guitars and sing with the preeminent local noise band the Laundry Room Squelchers, who have long had residence on Thursday nights at the bar. The group’s founder, the legendary Frank “Rat Bastard” Fallestra, was always happiest when the din produced made people leave the bar. That Daniels could not only allow that but continue to invite Rat back over, night after night for literally decades, speaks to the kind of man Daniels is.
Churchill’s has not only incubated the likes of artists like Rat but also musicians like Sam Beam of Iron and Wine (who I first discovered there). Interpol’s drummer, Sam Fogarino, reunited with his old mates in the Holy Terrors a few years ago after an Interpol show (it was the better show that night). Now, after 35 years of ownership, Daniels has sold the bar, and I could hardly avoid the howl of protest from many local musician friends (this show happened, and it was one for the ages). Of course, the local musicians and fans have been only understanding, but they also harbor a bit of dread that the place will just never be the same.
Parente also has that same feeling. He has already spent much time with Daniels since he started shooting footage for his documentary on a bar that he considers Miami’s equivalent to New York’s CBGB. “I’d like to think it’s about the legacy that Dave built or rather allowed to build itself. What most people don’t see is the community of artists, musicians and just regular people that have coexisted within that space in Little Haiti.”
“The story we’re telling of Churchill’s wouldn’t exist were it not for him since it just wouldn’t be the same,” adds Markoulis.
Local musician Steven Toth, a.k.a. Mr. Entertainment, who put together the tribute show “For the Good of Music/A Night for Dave Daniels,” epitomizes the many local artists who would have never found their voice were in not for Daniels’ openness. “Well, Dave has been like the coolest uncle ever, and we aren’t related,” he says. “He gave me and my band a chance when we may not have even been good enough. He encouraged us to play, always told me how much he loved my street performing, and pretty much never said no to any of my crazy ideas. What Dave gave to us was freedom and a home all in one.”
During his interviews with Daniels, Parente found some insight into what motivated Daniels to open his stage to pretty much anyone with an instrument of some kind. “I think it’s been his interest all along to watch people flourish and shed the armor,” he says of Daniels. “I know he’s a businessman and always has been, but he’s a businessman with a heart, and that’s a dying breed.”
The idea of the dying breed is also part of the urgency that motivated Parente to begin work on this documentary before he had all the funds necessary to complete the film. Now, he and Markoulis have taken to Kickstarter to finish their work. “It’s a monumental task to raise this much money with smaller donations, as opposed to large investors bankrolling it,” admits Markoulis. But she also offers a perspective that will make it easily feasible. “If everyone who stumbles upon our project page pledged the cost of going to the movies, we’d have our funding and be able to preserve a piece of music history.”
As of the publication of this post, they are halfway to the $79,000 required to continue their work, but they only have eight days to go. Markoulis says if everything goes as planned, they could have their film completed by next year. They also hope to get the new owners on the record, even though the filmmakers admit some of these owners have chosen not to reveal their identities, which goes to show just how intimidating it is to be seen as a replacement for Daniels. “We are in the process of setting up an interview,” notes Parente, “but it’s a transitional period and direct access to the new owners has not been easy to come by. They’re not sitting at the end of the bar sipping on cider like Dave did for so long.”
“We would really love to include them in the documentary and the future of Churchill’s Pub,” adds Markoulis. “Hopefully they will be willing to sit down for an interview with us.”
Despite the doubts that seem to haunt the new ownership by many, both filmmakers remain optimistic about them. “We stand by them and hope that they make positive changes to the place and that we as a community can have Churchill’s here forever,” Parente states. “The reason we are making this film is not to preserve the building, but what Dave and his way of doing things have allowed to go on and came from that building.”
You can read much more about the film, including more specifics about how the filmmakers plan to use the Kickstarter funds, by jumping though the image below to this article I wrote for Pure Honey, earlier this month:
If you live in South Florida, one of the best ways to experience this venue while supporting this film is by checking out a show this Saturday, June 28 (here’s the Facebook event page to join). There’s a $10 cover and all proceeds go towards the Little Haiti Rock City Kickstarter campaign. Bands slated to appear include:
-The PawnsShop Drunks
-Shark Dust Sisters (featuring members of Load, The Holy Terrors & Quit. Plus special guests)
-Mr. Entertainment (playing the sidewalk, like the old days)
Remember, even if you are not in Miami, you can donate. Once again, here’s the link:
During the Miami International Film Festival, I had an opportunity to sit down with actor/director John Turturro. I was told I had 12 minutes to discuss his new film, Fading Gigolo, with him. Somehow we lost track of time and carried on for double that time, but it was a great conversation, touching on specifics in both his filmmaking and his acting style, directing Woody Allen the actor, his vision to hire Vanessa Paradis, a model/singer/actress better known in France for all her talents and best known in the U.S. as Johnny Depp’s ex. We also touched on his memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who only recently passed, and who we did love so much here at Independent Ethos.
It was a long chat that had to be spread across two articles in the Miami New Times. This first one appeared in print in and was written as a feature story and touched on not only the movie but Allen and that controversy that hung a bit too close over the film’s premiere in Miami. It also features his comments on Hoffman. Read it by jumping through the Miami New Times logo below:
There were many details left out of that piece for the sake of space, which one has to be very conscious of when writing for print. We spoke much more about Allen and how it was working with him, but we also spoke about Paradis’ talents and, on a more important scale, the presence of a film like Fading Gigolo in a major movie production industry more concerned with adapting YA stories and comic books. Where does a film about more complicated adult love fit into such an industry? We get into all that and more in the expanded Q&A I provided for Miami New Times’ art and culture blog Cultist. You can read that part of our chat by jumping through the Cultist logo below:
Finally, there is what is left of our chat, which was no less compelling. Turturro was certainly gracious about his award, which he received at a packed concert hall in Downtown Miami a couple of months ago, at the 2014 Miami International Film Festival (A re-cap of a hectic half-attended, still impressive Miami International Film Festival 31). However, there’s something of a feeling of achieving a peak with such awards, and it can do things to your creativity and career … We start there, talk about color and film, shooting in 35mm (which Turturro has not given up on), and love stories for mature people. Here’s part three of our talk, exclusive to Independent Ethos:
Hans Morgenstern: So what was it like getting your big career achievement Award?
John Turturro: You know, I take those things with a grain of salt. People obviously like what you do. But I wouldn’t like to be doing it, because I’m not announcing my retirement. You know, I got one of those things when I first started out in Sundance. They gave me this Actor Piper-Heidseick Award. I think I was the first person to ever get one, and I was just starting out. It was like 1990 or 1991 or something like that. I remember I didn’t even have a proper suit jacket to wear. I guess because I do a variety of things, oh, look at this, look at that. I’m always appreciative, but I’m more appreciative of being able to do the things I want. That’s what I want to do. People can win an Academy Award, and it may not help them get another job. Things like that have happened many times, and my important thing is being able to do things I like to do. That’s it. That’s what I care about. I can’t sit and stare at the walls and say I got all these awards. It’s nice, but I don’t think about it too much.
They also showed your new movie, Fading Gigolo. One of the things I noticed about the film was the range of colors you used.
Oh, yeah, very carefully selected. We used the Saul Leiter photographs. He was a fashion photographer who did all these great street pictures and reflections in windows. Maybe they were staged, some of them. I’m not sure some of them weren’t, but they were like Kodachrome. There was a certain dye transfer that he did. Then I used the Italian painter, [Giorgio] Morandi, a still life painter, for a lot of the colors of Fiorvante’s apartment. So those were the two visual sources. Everything was selected very carefully, stripes that the Hasidic community used and the stripes that my character had, and even getting Woody in dark pants was a big thing. I told him, no khaki pants. I didn’t tell him, but I gently nudged him, and as you see, he’s got dark pants on, and that’s very unusual for Woody, and he even has a purple, kind of, colored corduroy hat. He’s even got a black jacket at some point, and he never dresses that way.
I even noticed the white of his hair more in this movie.
Well, he hasn’t really been in that many movies for a long time. Anyway, yeah, cause color is emotional, and the way it’s lit, we shot it on film. We didn’t shoot digital. We used 8 millimeter for the credits and it’s 35 millimeter, and [director of photography] Marco Pontecorvo, he’s great with the light. We used a lot of shadow, a lot of chiaroscuro.
Have you always shot in 35mm?
Only Passione I did with the Red [digital camera]. But this we tested, and we thought it was a lot softer on the women, and it’s a film about New York or any city that’s kind of changing and fading a little bit. I thought that would just be—it’s more voluptuous, soft.
Well, fading is a key word to your film.
Yeah, of course.
So what motivated you to do this film about a man far along in his prime, let’s say? Because when you are dealing with Hollywood and this complex idea of love, it’s so much easier to focus on the youth.
Well, youth is part of life, but it’s not all of life, and sometimes you can see a film like Blue Is the Warmest Color, and it’s fantastic. The girl is unbelievable because you’re seeing someone budding. I thought her performance was brilliant, but most of the time you see it, and their reference is very young, and life goes on, and people start life again at 40. They get divorced. They lose someone. They never find the right person, and though, well, here’s a guy who’s in the middle of his life and lives in a room, and I know people like that, who are really comfortable with women, who likes women, but he never really commits, but he’s a guy who is very good, physically. I have friends that can fix their engines, they have a plumbing problem, they have an electrical problem, and it’s very attractive to be around a person like that, cause you’re like, wow. These people express themselves in that way, and they may not be ambitious, and I was thinking about that. So many people want to be famous instead of doing what they do. I think love and needing to be loved, to be touched, to connect, it’s a universal thing. It never ends. You’re livin’ by yourself, and you’re 70 years old, you know, loneliness can kill a person. So I thought that could be an interesting thing to explore. Obviously, you have to be in good enough shape to do it, and I thought when Woody makes the suggestion to me, the guy is resistant. I’m too old. I’m not a gorgeous looking guy, but he’s not insecure that way at all. He’s like, well, I know who I am.
And that helps with the ladies.
Yeah, that’s right. It could help a lot. Especially if you know how to listen and you know how to behave, you know how to pick up what’s going on in the moment.
Your character has a great name: Fiorvante. Where’s that from?
A lot of the names I took— my father was a builder— right out of his phone book. He’s no longer alive and Dan Bongo, I took right out of his phone book. He was a plasterer. Fiorvante, I think [his last name was] Boccio, he was a painter. I just took the names right out of it. Not all of the names, but those names I did. Virgil Howard was a name I took right out of a phone book. So sometimes you’re superstitious. You think, well, maybe if I take something from my parents, it’ll bring you good fortune. It’s a way of communicating with them or something.
Fading Gigolo opens Friday, May 2, in the Miami area at Coral Gables Art Cinema, Regal South Beach Stadium 18, and AMC Aventura 24. On opening night, at the 7 p.m. screening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema there will be a live video-link Q&A with Turturro. For screening dates in other cities, visit the film’s official website.
October 11, 2013
When I wrote about Sigur Rós coming to Miami I made an off-the-cuff reference to fans who let the tears loose at the sound of frontman Jon “Jónsi” Thor Birgisson’s voice (An interview with Sigur Ros’ drummer ahead of the band’s first Miami show [go through to the Miami New Times interview, too]). It was something I had heard in passing, and I could not remember a specific reference. I could have even just made it up, as I believe the Icelandic group’s music is some of the most stirring I have ever heard. It’s the way they know how to build up music. It’s assembled with such care and patience that albums such as 2002’s ( ) earns the ecstasy of untitled track 3 (AKA “Samskeyti”) because of the two untitled tracks before it (“Vaka” and “Fyrsta”). It takes a full 15 minutes before a pretty, looping, driving piano melody appears, but it’s only as good as it is because of the investment in the rather ambient, amorphous, restrained bits of music before it.
The other night, at the Klipsch Amphitheater at Bayfront Park, I noticed the band work that subtle magic that ultimately affected me. It was during the fourth number of the night when it felt like I stepped across a line in my consciousness.
“Glósóli” from 2005’s Takk… was coming toward its finale. After building up from sporadic, light bass string plucking by Georg Hólm, a light twinkling bell melody and the surreal muddy crunch from either a sampler or one of the band’s many percussive elements, the song soared to heights of layered ecstasy. Jónsi bowed at his electric guitar, creating a wall of sound like a ghostly wind rolling over a distant mountain. The song went double time, with more elements of percussion piling up and pounding along. Guitars joined in the din until it all became a sort of white noise that still had musical scale, growing higher and more ecstatic. As Jónsi repeated a phrase, “Og hér ert þú, Glósóli,” extending the “þú” with each refrain, I realized I could cry. I did not need to know what he’s saying. It was all about the sensation. The decision to allow the tear ducts to open was as easy as opening a door and relaxing into what greeted me on the other side.
Here’s the video for “Glósóli”:
You can read my full review of that night by clicking on the image below shot by Miami New Times’s photographer Monica McGivern:
Sigur Rós’ tour continues with a stop in Mexico City and London in a few days and then a European leg in November:
Oct. 13 – Corona Capital – Mexico City
Oct. 18 – Maida Vale – London
EUROPEAN AUTUMN TOUR
Nov. 16 – O2 Arena – Dublin, Ireland
Nov. 18 – Usher Hall – Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Nov. 19 – Capital FM Arena – Nottingham, United Kingdom
Nov. 20 – Brighton Centre – Brighton, United Kingdom
Nov. 21 – Wembley Arena – London, United Kingdom
Nov. 23 – Rockhal – Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Nov. 24 – Jahrhunderthalle – Frankfurt, Germany
Nov. 25 – Mitsubishi Electric Halle – Dusseldorf, Germany
Nov. 27 – Baltiska Hallen – Malmo, Sweden
Nov. 28 – Spektrum – Oslo, Norway
Nov. 30 – Hartwall Areena – Helsinki, Finland
You can find tickets to any of these shows by visiting the band’s touring page here.
Film Review [in 'Miami New Times']: ‘Cubamerican’ documentary walks a nice line between nostalgia and identity
June 14, 2013
My latest film review was taken by the “Miami New Times” art and culture blog “Cultist.” It’s fitting, considering its subject: a group of people key to the culture of Miami: Cuban-Americans. In my many years living in Miami (most of my life), Cuban-American art and culture has come across as rather in-your-face and self-conscious.
I was therefore a bit cautious approaching the documentary Cubamerican when asked for my opinion by my editor at “Cultist” on this film. I was afraid the documentary would come across as preachy and self-righteous and disproportionately rounded. Instead, it ended up hitting all the right notes and substituted the usual angry bitterness I come to expect from Cuban art with a sense of melancholy and hope. It downright moved me.
I was amazed this marked José Enrique Pardo‘s debut as a director. Though it’s rather straight-forward as a documentary, his pacing and thoroughness show this is a man who knows how to put in the work to compose an engaging work. As a plus, the film also provided a clear history that informs the Cuban-American identity. It does not sentimentalize pre-Castro, mobster-influenced Batista Cuba. But the kicker are the men and women who have done so much for society, art and even sports by tapping into a unique drive they call viveza. Everyone can learn to be a better person from this documentary, no matter if you are Cuban-American or not.
The film’s U.S. commercial premiere is tonight in Miami. You can read the full review and see details of the screening today by clicking through the “Cultist” logo below:
Up-date: I just heard Cubamerican expands into Broward County, at Fort Lauderdale’s Cinema Paradiso, for two nights, Saturday, June 22 and Sunday, June 30. The director will be present for a Q&A on June 22. Click here for more information (that’s a hot link).
So, a few weeks ago, I was hanging on the telephone waiting for Temper Trap’s frontman Dougy Mandagi (pictured above, center) to get on the phone. I was told he was in the shower, he was coming down the elevator and I got … bassist Jonathon Aherne (pictured above, far right). One would think, dang! But, no. Aherne was generous and insightful. The resulting profile was published in this week’s “Miami New Times.” Read it by jumping through the logo of the “Miami New Times” music blog:
Yes, the story focuses a lot on “Sweet Disposition,” that song from my favorite film of 2009, (500) Days of Summer. But I was curious about the effect of such a popular hit on an indie band now releasing records on one of the largest of major labels in the world: Columbia Records, which is owned by Sony Entertainment. It doesn’t get bigger than that. The label’s rep listened in on our conversation and told us when to get off the phone, but that’s how it goes. It did not stop me from asking polite questions about the psychological effects of— to put it simply— selling out, and Aherne seemed to have a healthy attitude about it. The band loves having a song as recognizable as “Sweet Disposition,” and you can expect to hear it live on their current tour for their new self-titled album. “There’s nothing wrong with that because we want our music to connect with people, for people to enjoy it,” he said. So here’s that song, once again:
Finally, the contest…
Now you’ve heard the song again, visit Independent Ethos’ Facebook page (yep, that’s the live link) and share where you first heard the song.
The band continues its tour beyond Miami at these following dates:
10/19/2012 Atlanta GA Center Stage
10/20/2012 Orlando FL House of Blues
10/21/2012 Miami FL Grand Central
10/23/2012 St. Petersburg FL State Theater
10/25/2012 Fort Worth TX Ridglea Theater
10/26/2012 Houston TX House of Blues
10/28/2012 Austin TX Stubb’s
February 28, 2012
Radiohead kicked off its US tour in support of its latest album, the King of Limbs, Monday night with a sold out show at the AmericanAirlines Arena. It marked the first time the alt-rock legends performed a show in Miami since they opened for REM in support of the Bends in the mid-nineties. Much has changed in those 20 years since Radiohead’s sophomore release. Fans of REM have faded, as that band has broken up while Radiohead has now (as of this post, at least) eclipsed REM as far as relevance in the independent rock world.
Radiohead are probably a rarity among independent music scene, in order to sell out an arena all by itself without the help of endorsements, heavy commercial radio play and a major label. Add to that the notion that the band has re-invented its sound so many times since its last Miami arena show as an opening act (kids, I’ve been there from the beginning, as this post documents: Radiohead tribute show in Miami, allow me a few words on said band), while still maintaining its line-up all these years (though this show saw the addition of a sixth member), they rendered any music from the Bends, not to mention, its predecessor Pablo Honey, the album that spawned “Creep,” irrelevant. In fact, Monday night saw no selections of those albums in Radiohead’s set list. A couple of dips into OK Computer sounded like nostalgia, in fact, and set a new tone to the show during the first encore. Really, like its new album, Radiohead felt mellowed out. But below burbled a surface of subtle complexity: a moody but mellow show, punctuated by lyrics of grumbling ambivalence to man’s place in existence. It’s almost a fluke miracle that this band has achieved a popular following so strong that it can sell out an arena on the strength of its name alone.
From my view, way far off in the lower level stands, people mostly sat or stood. Some ate nachos and pretzels and drank beer. The King of Limbs could indeed be the group’s most low-key album to date, and I think it’s a grand, if short work. The quieter and slower the record sounded, the better. A highlight moment has to be the coupling of “Codex” and “Giving Up the Ghost.” The latter being the stronger of the two. Its pastoral gorgeousness threw me back to Pink Floyd, in the use of acoustic guitar and tweeting birds. It’s probably the album’s slowest song, at that, but, man, when Radiohead ratchets down the mood, they know how to do it.
Though I posted about what was then the surprise announcement of the new album (Radiohead’s new full-length out this Saturday), I never offered later opinions on it. For the record, my views on the King of Limbs has wavered over these months. I have spun the biodegradablely packaged “newspaper” 10–inch vinyl edition only once. I was quite annoyed by the interruption of the track flow between “Codex” and “Giving Up the Ghost,” and feel so strong about it, I might just get the 12-inch version for home listening. In the end, King lacks the dynamism of In Rainbows, but it still has the intelligent and distinctive songcraft one might expect from Radiohead, and they play mellow so well, even if the beats get hyper.
So how did the album translate live? Radiohead even performed every song from the album except “Little By Little,” probably the weakest and most annoying track on the album, anyhow. I will jump ahead to their keen live version of the album’s closer, “Separator,” which closed the band’s first set:
By now you will have noticed the visual side of this show. Like the In Rainbows Tour (the only Radiohead show I have caught since I saw them open up for Belly in support of Pablo Honey in Miami Beach) video screens were a key element. That show happened two counties to the north, in West Palm Beach, at the Cruzan Amphitheater. But the drive was certainly worth it. That show featured a light show that trumped the venue’s jumbotrons, which were shut off for the duration of the performance. The set came alive with varying close-up images of the band members, as they performed, which pulsed in an array of colors. I made my own videos, way off from the front of the lawn, and it still looked cool. Here’s one of those, which though cut, highlights their use of screens during that tour, four years earlier:
This one is a particular favorite due to the fact that even a plane flying overhead did not do anything to break the mood:
More videos I recorded that night can be found on YouTube that show it was one of the few performances that still paid off from a distance. The show last night also worked thanks to the screen use. During last night’s show, as many as 12 different angles of the band members shifted and floated into an array of positions on the square screens, flashing in various color templates for each song. It made for a dynamic experience and helped highlight the subtleties between the songs. The only time all the screens folded away came during the presentation of one of two new songs, “Cut a Hole,” hinting at its work-in-progress state. Radiohead fans in the presence of its debut in a live setting may have wet themselves, but I found the track rather uneventful. I would have to hear it a few more times to pass solid judgement, and, who knows the band might change it up. Luckily, someone standing up front recorded it for yourselves to judge:
I did happen to record the other new song of the night, “Identikit,” which had a nice building, dynamic quality:
The screens on stage did not always focus on the band. Besides abstract images, frontman Thom Yorke’s face filled them up during “You and Whose Army?”
But the highlight is indeed the music, which proves to be something beyond pop music and trendy hipster rock. Radiohead is among a very few group of bands that still holds my attention, since I first heard them in the early nineties. There is a classic quality to its music that harkens to British rock’s early forays in redefining pop music with experimentation popularized by the likes of the Beatles and carried on by King Crimson and David Bowie. The seriousness of the musicians’ awareness of this was on full display in Miami last night, and it only left me looking forward to more. Here are the other videos I captured that night:
I was surprised to see a sell out show at the AAA in Miami because of the largely low-key experience that is King of Limbs, which did not receive close to as much critical praise and hype as In Rainbows. If the focus on the new album, minus “Little By Little,” did not establish a tone for this show, I do not know what did.
This was a show for diehard Radiohead fans. There was even the inclusion of OK Computer B-side “Meeting in the Aisle,” a mellow, mood-setting instrumental that fit cozily among the King of Limbs tracks. Though I was surrounded by what indeed seemed locals, I had noticed many commenting on Radiohead boards before the show that they were coming from out of town for this show, seeing as it was the kick-off to the band’s US tour in support of the King of Limbs. The coverage was swift and even saw YouTube videos and set list recordings as the show unfolded at the fansite At Ease. Though my wife (she’s the photographer here) and I kept track of the songs during the show, here is the set list courtesy of At Ease, which I verified based on my notes for accuracy. This is correct:
02. The Daily Mail
03. Morning Mr. Magpie
05. The National Anthem
06. Meeting In The Aisle
07. Kid A
08. The Gloaming
10. You And Whose Army?
13. Lotus Flower
14. There There
20. Cut A Hole (new song debut)
21. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
22. Give Up The Ghost (with a false start)
24. Karma Police
My only complaint would be the cavernous sound of the arena, adding an echo that felt annoying. Play any video I captured in 2008 at the open-air Cruzan and compare it to these to hear for yourself.
The show went on for nearly two hours, following the enchanting support act Other Lives, from Oklahoma. Be sure to arrive on time in order to not miss this chamber rock ensemble, who employ effective use of glockenspiel, cello and violin as well as more traditional rock instruments like guitars and piano. It all swells and rides along nicely and seems to fit in well with today’s folk/psyche/dream-pop indie rock scene. Here are two videos I recorded from their brief, shamefully ignored set (apologies for the chatter around these recordings):
Other Lives found another good fit as the warm up act to Bon Iver prior to taking on the task as opener for Radiohead. They were excellent and the complexity of the band set up did justice to the recordings. The band has offered both of the songs I captured above as free live streams on the band’s website.
You can see the remaining Radiohead tour dates here.
September 10, 2011
More than 10 years after setting the pop world on fire with his solo debut, Proxima Estación: Esperanza, Manu Chao has finally given Miami a long overdue live performance, thanks to the Rhythm Foundation. The wait did not matter. At 50 years old, this man still gives the same energy to the crowd as his early days. As noted on Independent Ethos earlier this year (Manu Chao to make Miami debut in Sept.) this show arrived with high expectations. They were met.
The Bayside Amphitheater (currently known as the Klipsch Amphitheater) was filled from the seats, over the lawn and on back to the food stands. It was an amazing feat to fill up such a space when your last original full-length album (La Radiolina) came out four years prior. Despite receiving mixed reviews (mostly in comparison only to his earlier albums, as his music offers a unique blend of punk, island and Latin music). I found, at least found it fine and uncompromising. He has maintained that kinetic, high-speed world-music spirit since his solo debut, 1998’s Clandestino, after leaving his successful and pioneering Paris-based Latin pop-punk band Mano Negra behind.
With only a trio of musicians behind him (guitarist Madjid Fahem, bassist Jean Michel Gambit and drummer Phillipe Tebou [also former Mano Negra]), Chao was still able to do his music justice, last night at the open-air theater in downtown Miami. Often known for having as many as 15 musicians on stage, Chao’s new quartet, named La Ventura (after a song by Mano Negra), powered through the singer/guitarist’s career of well-regarded tunes. Gambit, a bruiser of a Frenchman with tattoos running the course of his arms, but with a large, soft belly, triggered samples with one hand and offered a range of his weird popping sounds with his voice that even a signature “meow” during “L’Hiver Est Là” (Check my video out below), as he kept a steady rhythm and often lead the crowd in clapping along to the music.
Fahem brought the dexterous bounce in the song’s signature guitar lines, bolstered by Tebou’s athletic drumming, whose style reminded me of the Police’s Steward Copeland. One can’t help but thing of the police in their heyday, bouncing on stage in their pop-punk manner, as La Ventura did the same at many points throughout their show. They also both share the unmistakable influence of reggae. Compounding the British ska/punk influence in Manu Chao’s music, is his voice and delivery, which sounds like good old nasally Joe Strummer in the Clash.
All are fine, fun influences that certainly can pull in a vast crowd, and they did, but Manu Chao is far from derivative and more a lover of music that blends in a mix of cultures, offering the perfect soundtrack for a the city of Miami. But also the crowd wanted to dance, and their songs never offered a shortage of energy. Just as soon as you thought they were exploring their slower side, Tebou would lead the track into double-time, beating out the rhythm like a machine gunner. Here are three tracks, which occurred early in the show, that I recorded back-to-back-to-back and captures the unrelenting energy of the group:
In fact, I believe this band were on a quest to wear everyone out. However, Miami proved long pressed for a Manu Chao appearance and they three back as much energy as he gave. Beyond the pit never running out of water to spray into the air, and even the appearance of a giant inflatable killer whale to join in the fray, one audience member executed the most perfect invasion of a performance I had ever seen in my 20+ years of attending rock shows. This young woman stormed the stage to first plant a kiss on Chao’s mouth as he sang, then startled the bassist by popping up on his right side for a hug. Finally, security woke up and began chasing her, as she scurried to the guitarist to practically jump on his back. Dodging the grabbing hands of another security guard, who only snatched air, she was able to partially remove the headphones from the drummer and kiss him on the right cheek. Security finally pulled her away to take her out via the back stage, but she slithered out of their grasp to sprint and leap right off the stage, landing back in the pit from whence she emerged. The stunned and humiliated bouncer stared into the sea of raving fans for a couple of minutes and soon left… probably to go back to sleep. Of course, throughout the stunt, the band powered through without seeming to miss a note (if anyone finds a video of it, let me know, and I’ll share it here!).
“L’Hiver Est Là” was the encore song and audience members were singing along as they filed out of the amphitheater after something like four or five encores, which included the finale of that song at least twice. At the end, Chao told the unmoving crowd: “Y ahora que, Miami? Que vas a hacer, Miami?” (translation: What now, Miami? What you gonna do?). The crowd never budged after every “ending”– even those standing at the far end of the field. Chao even came out when the house lights came up to meet those lingering at the front of the stage.
The night was always electric with energy. At the start of the show, rain meekly drizzled down, but Mother Nature failed to dampen the proceedings. Mr. Pauer stirred up the crowd for Chao. He’s a local guy from Venezuela, but has received global attention for his pioneering work in the world of Latin electronica. His warm-up mash-up mix featuring Latin pop songs mixed with classic rock and ethnic dance beats flowed from his mixer and laptop with infectious ease. People wanted to jump around and dance, and they were geared up by the time Chao appeared with his trio of backing musicians. At that point, the rain gave up, and it was on with an unrelenting live show that carried on for nearly two hours.
Manu Chao offered a great start for what will be a packed month of live shows in South Florida featuring stellar acts (September offering some good concerts in SoFla). In the meantime, La Ventura’s tour continues with a few more dates to go:
09/11 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade Music Park
09/13 – Chicago, IL @ Congress Theater
09/16 – Austin, TX @ Stubbs
09/18 – Austin, TX @ Austin City Limits