August 08, 2004
BY JASON SONGE
It's become a custom for bands to perform a Louis Armstrong tune at Satchmo Summerfest. In the middle of his set Sunday afternoon, crooner Philip Manuel obliged with "What a Wonderful World," but he had to improvise. Manuel didn't have a trumpeter in his band, so instead he used a technique he learned from his father. He cupped his hands together around the mic and mimicked the sound of a trumpet. It actually sounded alright, but Manuel abandoned the experiment halfway through. "I knew I shouldn't have tried to do that," he said. Yes, but he tried, which is the important part. Manuel played covers and standards backed by two keyboardists, a bassist and a drummer.
Manuel is easily one of the best male vocalists in the city(check out John Boutte, as well). You need to have more than a great voice to be a wonderful vocalist. You need charisma and confidence. Manuel was chock full of that Sunday. He smiled and strutted from one side of the stage to the other many times. He encouraged the crowd to sing, and he pulled out some dramatic gestures. He owned the songs he sung because he took chances with them. He changed the pace or arrangement of a song when he felt it necessary, and it felt right from out in the audience.
The show was simply fun because Manuel created a positive vibe that radiated into the audience. In fact, Manuel took a moment at the beginning of the show to mention he didn't rehearse the band last week just so they could have fun and go with what they knew. I think he made the right decision. The band was tight, and his bassist was bad-ass. He played super-fat funk grooves. When it got supersonically funky, Manuel asked for an amen from the audience. I complied, at least.
Manuel and crew ran through covers ranging from Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" to The Staple Singers' "Respect Yourself." All of them were well-known. One woman added some craziness to the set when she approached the stage and said, "Play some real music...Al Green." She skirted off quickly out of sight as Manuel composed himself. "Can you believe what that woman just told me...she's out of her mind. She knows I've got the mic." It was pretty funny. And, of course, when Manuel played Al Green, she magically reappeared.
Manuel, his voice and his band put on a great show Sunday. They worked hard, too. Manuel's shirt was soaked with sweat when he left the stage.