For Mana drummer Alex Gonzalez, who spent his early years in South Florida, playing in Miami this week was a homecoming.
The Mexican rockers are savoring success with their first tour in four years, and an album that won't quit the top of the Latin Billboard charts. As he prepared to go on Thursday night at the American Airlines Arena, Gonzalez said he was excited to have run into a classmate from middle school while doing publicity in nearby Hallandale Beach a day before.
"Now we might have a reunion from my 7th and 8th grade when we come back through here on the second leg of the tour next year," Gonzalez told The Associated Press. "These are guys I haven't seen in 30 years."
Gonzalez was less excited about the ticket scalpers, whom he said were selling concert tickets for as much as $2,000 each online. That's particularly galling for the band because it has been vocal about keeping ticket prices in the same range as during the last tour in recognition of the economic struggles many fans are facing.
"They're doing it right out in the open," he complained.
The band played for about two hours Thursday, alternating between their upbeat pop and more somber tunes like "Vuela Libre Paloma" (Fly Free Dove), which Singer Fher wrote in honor of his mother. She died as the group was recording their latest album "Drama y Luz" (Drama and Light), which was released this spring through Warner Music.
Fher's raspy voice is a tad thinner than when the band started, but his energy and soul got the audience in the packed arena on their feet instantly _ an audience that seemed more than willing to chant every line from every song just in case he couldn't.
The set featured several light panels and screens but was refreshingly free of high-tech gizmos or distracting images. It was a concert about the music. At one point, the group invited up a young guest guitarist who'd won the coveted spot on local radio to jam with Mana guitarist Sergio Vallin. Toward the end of the show, the band popped up on the other side of the arena in a more intimate stage, creating an "unplugged" feel and making hundreds in the cheap seats extremely happy.
Perhaps the highlight of the night was Gonzalez's roughly 10-minute drum solo, on a raised, rotating platform, during which he popped open a drum head, pulled out a beer and took a swig.
Billboard Magazine lists Mana as the third-biggest grossing act this week after U2 and Celine Dion with their four sold-out Los Angeles concerts. The band kicked off its tour with sold-out concerts in Puerto Rico. Those concerts were followed by performances in Dallas and San Antonio and two sold-out nights in Houston.
The band from Mexico then heads up the East Coast and over to Chicago. The group has set about 130 dates total and plans to return for more U.S. concerts in March of 2012, following legs in Latin America, Europe and Asia.