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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Mana Shows Off a Harder Edge

November 06, 1995|ENRIQUE LOPETEGUI

The new Mana--same as the old. Only better.

In the first of three sold-out shows at the Universal Amphitheatre on Friday night, the now-foursome Guadalajara sensation proved to be, if not the best live Latin American pop-rock group, certainly the most underrated.

Mana has now combined the best of its two latest albums for a powerful set. The songs of "Cuando los angeles lloran" ("When Angels Cry," the band's latest album), although still in the traditional mild, radio-friendly Mana spirit, allow the band members plenty of freedom for solo ventures and funky grooves.

Drummer Alex Gonzalez, concerned as much with his playing as with his crowd-pleasing antics, has become one of the most versatile young Latin rock drummers, his power giving backbone to the band's sound. Bassist Juan Calleros is an unspectacular but precise complement for the rhythm section, and singer Fernando (Fher) Olvera's charisma and wit still make him the legitimate artistic leader of the group, although he continues to struggle with the high notes.

But it was the new lead guitarist, 23-year-old Sergio Vallin, who gave newfound credibility to the successful but critically lambasted band. On Friday, he went from Ritchie Blackmore power to Sly Stone funkiness to subtle touches of Mexican folk. As if answering those who accused it of softness in the past, Mana now does offer that meaner sound it has been talking about. But even in the more intimate, acoustic numbers, Vallin showed confidence and class.

Regardless of whether the band is worth all the hype, it is now time to take Mana more seriously.

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