Potent Arena Rock, With a Latin Beat
By Ed Morales
'I love this city because it looks like the United Nations! It's a groovy bunch of different Latin American countries," shouted Fher Olvera, lead singer for the Mexican rockers Maná. Having burst upon the stage amid a visual riot of images of revolutionaries like Emiliano Zapata, Che Guevara and Rigoberta Menchu, Maná launched into "Pan, Tierra, y Libertad," and "Ay, Doctor," two songs from its new album "Revolución de Amor" (Warner Music Latina). The opening tunes displayed the band's highly evolved concept of Latin arena rock, a refined version of the California counterculture rock of the '60s. Take one part angry young man - calling for peace, love and respect for nature, and another part stylishly clad bohemian seducer and you have a band that both guys and girls want to love.
At the crux of this winning formula - Maná's current 12-city tour boasts several sellouts and its album is No. 4 on the Billboard Latin charts - is Fher, who not only sounds like Sting, but prefers to use only one name. With his charming fusion of earnestness and rebel insouciance, he shifts easily from criticizing the United States for not signing the global warming accord to baring his soul about various women who have caused him heartbreak. He effortlessly breezed through "Cuando Los Angeles Lloran" (When the Angels Cry), in which he memorializes Amazon rain forest activist Chico Mendes and "Se Me Olvidó Otra Vez" (I Forgot Again), a romantic Juan Gabriel ballad about a lost love.
But if Fher is the band's shaggy-haired head, then drummer Alex "El Animal" González, clad in a black sleeveless CBGB T-shirt, is its muscular forearms, taut torso and soulful bottom. He co-writes many of the band's songs, engages in strong harmonies with Fher, and puts on a very showy display from his lofty perch; about two-thirds of the way through the band's two-hour show, he revived the "Inna Gadda da Vida"-style 20-minute drum solo. Most importantly, González anchors Maná's eclectic reggae-salsa-power- pop sound with his commanding presence, driving every song home with an exclamation point.
While there were some slow moments during the acoustic ballad segments, Maná thrived on the ska- punk intensity of "Me Vale," from 1992's "Dónde Jugarán los Niños?" and brought the evening to a rousing climax by effectively evoking '80s power rock on the new album's "Angel de Amor." Guitarist Sergio Vallín, who matches Fher's charisma and González's muscle with instrumental artistry, recapitulated his evening's pastiche of classical Spanish, pseudo-Santana, and art-Gothic playing in one joyous cacophony.
The evening's ritual ceremonial feel - which included Fher picking out young women from the crowd and slow- dancing with them, a cell-phone waving sing-along and a presentation of the American, Mexican and peace-sign flags finally ended after two encores, with the band holding roses and the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" playing. The crowd, a mostly Latino mix of Mexicans, South Americans and Caribbean youth, stayed on for several minutes, holding on to the calm Maná had created in the middle of the storm we live in.
MANÁ. Touring in support of its first new studio album in five years, Maná makes a triumphant return to the New York area with a highly polished, exuberant arena rock show. Seen at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on Monday.
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