Talk about Brooktopia. On a day when faltering substations in Queens triggered blackouts and panic in Manhattan and the Bronx, Brooklyn's idyllic Prospect Park seemed somewhat safe from calamity. Undersize (and fiercely energized) Frenchman of Spanish descent Manu Chao ended his sold-out, two-night run at Prospect Park's Celebrate Brooklyn band shell with a raucous, 100-minute set that almost beat the weather odds.
Chao, celebrating his 46th birthday yesterday, ran through his back catalogue of Mano Negra and solo songs at a crazed tempo, slowing only to intermittently shout "Thank you, Brooklyn!," hoist handwritten signs ("IMMIGRANTS ARE NOT CRIMINALS"), and harangue "Mr. Whitehouse, Mr. BushBushBush." His five mostly shirtless bandmates fist-pumped and spastically jumped from all angles, while Chao pumped out anarcho-socialist hits laced with calls to arms and orders to smoke 'em if you got 'em. After 90 sweat-soaked minutes, the band wobbled offstage to cascading soccer chants and air-horn blasts.
The crowd, expecting a long, self-congratulatory encore, watched in horror as a festival organizer took the mike instead: "Listen, listen, listen!" (Boos) "Shhh. Shhh. Shhh. Listen!" (More Boos) "A very dangerous storm is coming this way." (Quieting) "We will give you one more song, but then everyone has to leave safely." (Tired, resigned, whatever: Whoo!) Chao and band sprinted back onstage, launched into their best-known song, "King of the Bongos," and then the gods had had enough: The skies opened up, water fell in sheets, lightening flashed, and thunder cracked. It was a thorough and not-unwelcome soaking, rinsing away the effects of one particularly chaotic day in the city we call home. —Jon Steinberg