Establishing immediately its taste for bombast, Mana took the Patriot Center's stage Thursday evening to the fanfare from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The Mexican rock-en-Espanol quartet proceeded to play for more than two hours, shaking the full house with techno-worthy bass and budgeting a full ten minutes for a drum solo, an indulgence long out of favor among Anglo-American rockers. Yet the swagger was strictly rationed during a performance devoted mostly to ballads.
Mana's songs, most of them written by singer and occasional guitarist Fher Olvera, are well-crafted but not especially distinctive. So the group relied on elaborate stage business to sustain the audience's interest.
A scrim that rose and fell in front of the band was used for video projections, as were six screens behind and above the musicians (who were supplemented by three more players for most of the show). During "Sor Maria," a telenovela-style tale of forbidden love between a priest and a nun in 16th-century Spain, six men in monk's habits processed through the crowd and onto the stage, swinging incense-burning thuribles.
Toward the show's end, the group temporarily relocated to a platform at the opposite end of the arena for a mini-set of folkie singalong tunes, during which Olvera summoned a woman from the crowd for a slow dance. Alex Gonzalez's drum solo was pounded from a mobile riser that spun, advanced and finally hoisted itself about ten feet in the air. Also, in a moment that seemed more for the band's amusement than the fans', Maryland prestige guitar maker Paul Reed Smith traded licks with guitarist Sergio Vallin.
The musicians spoke only a few words of English during the show, most of them during "Latinoamerica," Gonzalez's pro-immigrant rocker. The song was illustrated by video images of the U.S.-Mexico border and flags of Latin-American countries, many of which could also be seen in audience, waved by fans advertising their national loyalties. Even for those less than fluent in Spanish, such songs weren't hard to follow. The vocabulary was fairly simple, and the video projections provided visual cues: Water drizzled in front of Olvera’s face during "Lluvia al Corazon" ("rain to the heart"), and butterflies fluttered above his head while he sang "Mariposa Traicionera" ("treacherous butterfly").
Melodramatic ballads like that one seem to be Mana's future — or at least Olvera’s. The now-pudgy vocalist still plays the rock-and-roll shaman during songs that draw on such early inspirations as U2 and the Clash. But Spanish guitar and Afro-Cuban percussion flavored most of the material, which will work fine in more intimate venues once Mana ages all the way out of arena-rock.
An earlier version of this review misspelled Fher Olvera’s name.