Maná, Santana sell out venues, retain ideals
By Brad Kava
``We're a Mexican band, but we really feel at home here,'' Maná's singer Fher Olvera told the mostly Spanish-speaking crowd at HP Pavilion at San Jose on Sunday night.
With good reason.
This slick band from Guadalajara sold out the hockey arena, with no tickets available on the day of the show. That's something no other Mexican band has done.
Even more surprising: The band filled the arena the same weekend Carlos Santana packed amphitheaters in Concord and Mountain View.
Maná and Santana both were excellent in their genres. Maná played tuneful, reggae-tinged rock harkening back to Bob Marley by way of the Police. Santana soared over his characteristic jazz-based rock.
Both demonstrated the power of the Bay Area's Latino market, which paid $65 for good seats at a time when many performers are struggling to sell tickets. Both also took time away from their music to talk about their visions for the future of America, stirring some controversy and a lot of cheers.
``We were a minority, but we are growing to a powerful majority,'' Olvera said, speaking to an audience laced with Mexican flags. ``This land was ours, and we are taking it back little by little with no war, no fighting.''
As if to emphasize his message, the longhaired, charismatic front man ended this 2-hour, 10-minute show with a recording of the Beatles' ``All You Need is Love.'' He walked along the front row, shaking hands and hugging babies while it played.
Earlier, he pulled out three flags -- U.S., Mexican and a peace flag in the middle.
Musically, Maná was slick, maybe too slick for some, but not for this adoring audience
The band came out accompanied by screens on each side of the stage showing brutal black-and-white images of battle sites, including Vietnam and Chiapas, as it launched into ``Justicia, Tierra y Liberdad (Justice, Land and Liberty),'' the opening song on its new album, ``Revolución de Amor (Revolution of Love).''
The band soon added another charged song, ``Pobre Juan (Poor John),'' about an immigrant who dies crossing the border illegally, leaving behind his pregnant wife.
Images of condoms flashed on the video screen during ``Anna,'' a tragic song about a 15-year-old who gets pregnant because she had no sex education.
But those who thought this often light-hearted band was going to ignite a new political fire were disappointed. Like the Paul McCartney side of the Beatles, Maná is more about gentle love songs and tender ballads of loss.
The quartet of Olvera, bassist Juan Calleros, guitarist Sergio Vallin and drummer Alex Gonzalez was beefed up with an added guitarist and keyboard player. They played solidly, carefully reproducing the layered textures of the albums and not straying far from the originals.
Toward the end, Gonzalez brought down the house with a lengthy drum solo. (Trend watchers take note: Drum solos are back. Santana's Dennis Chambers stretched for 15 minutes.)
``I'm an American, but Maná speaks about the things my family went through,'' said Sahul Cardenas, 24, of San Leandro.
And Maná did it while defying mass marketeers claims that South of the Border bands can succeed here only by singing in English.
The wonder of Santana
Santana answered the big question Saturday at Shoreline: Would he revert to the pop sound of the 25-million-selling ``Supernatural,'' with its radio-friendly hits?
His 2-hour, 45-minute set was as jazzy and cutting edge as he's been since the start of his 34-year career. He mixed songs in Spanish and English and covered Femi Kuti's ``Truth Don't Die'' and Jimi Hendrix's ``If 6 Was 9.'' This shaman made the hours feel like seconds. Like a great jazz leader, he let his remarkably talented band carry a lot of the weight, while he threw in his soaring solos.
They funkified ``Smooth'' with singers Tony Lindsay of San Jose and Andy Vargas of Watsonville surrounding the guitarist and adding levels of soul that made it even better than the hit version.
Santana speaks best with his guitar, and it's like you get a news report from the licks he throws in during masterful improvisations: a bit of ``Godfather,'' ``Paint It Black,'' blues, funk, dance music.
A musician in a league with his influences -- John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Hendrix, to name a few -- Santana surprises his audience at every turn, making his concerts an intellectual adventure that one can dance to.
``It was the dream of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys to look out at an audience like this, filled with beauty, grace and dignity,'' he told an audience that was all ages and races. ``You are more than Irish, Mexican, Asian, Italian, African.''
He asked the audience to join in a prayer for world peace and unity.
``An eye for an eye will make us all blind,'' he said.
This rare artist is as uncompromising in his politics as he is in his music.