Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Return of Manta Ray - Manta Ray live 14 / 12 / 2012

Last month I saw one of the best live bands I’ve seen in years.

Manta Ray, unless you’re from Spain, is a band that is probably unfamiliar to you. They are, in my opinion, not only one of the best bands ever to have come out of Spain but also one of the most interesting bands of the last 15 years. Live they have very few equals. Slow burning potent intensity, volume, tricky tempos and a shoe gazing love of feedback and noise make them one of the most compelling live bands around.

Manta Ray are José Luis García (Vocals, Guitar), Nacho Álvarez, (Bass), Xabel Vegas (Drums), Frank Rudow (Keyboards, Percussion) and, until the end of the 90s, Nacho Vegas (Guitar) who left to have a successful solo career.

The band are from Gijon in Spain and were part of a wave of bands around the early 90s who, although quite disparate in style, all got lumbered with the “Xixon (Gijon) sound" label  – a bit like the Spanish equivalent of Merseybeat. However Manta Ray are very much their own men and followed a path which, over a decade and a half, saw them experiment with and incorporate new musical styles, however always with a burly sense of their own identity.

Their music has its roots in early 90s Grunge, post rock, punk rock, the Pixies, the Stooges, Public Image, Hawkwind, Can, Neu and surprising stuff like the heavy bass, jagged guitars and odd tempos of early 70s King Crimson. They also remind me of that strange and rather underrated period in the Pink Floyd’s history, post Syd Barrett and pre Dark Side of the Moon, when they were lost in space and at their most experimental.

From 1994 to their retirement in 2007 they recorded 6 albums - Manta Ray, Pequeñas Puertas que se Abren, Pequeñas Puertas que se Cierran,  Esperanza, Estratexa, Torres de Electricidad and the live Score (which was given away with Spanish magazine Rockdelux and is now extremely sought after). Esperanza and Estratexa are personal faves but all the albums are excellent. There is an old fashioned prog-rock sense of a band moving forward, experimenting, incorporating different textures and approaches into the albums and having fun with it at the same time. The last album, Torres de Electricidad, although excellent, is the only album that doesn't seem to offer anything new and it was after this album that the band decided to split.

Photo; La Nueva España

Manta Ray live at la Sala Acapulco, Gijon, Spain, 14/12/2012
In December 2012, after nearly 5 years off, they decided to reform in with original collaborator Nacho Vegas to play a one-off gig commemorating the 30th anniversary of “La Plaza”, the bar in Gijon around which some of the Xixon sound bands started to gather. The gig sold out quickly and there was a great deal of expectation as to whether the band would live up to former live glories. Also, with the news that Nacho Vegas was also on the bill, many hoped that he and his old band would do a few numbers together.

The albums are good but live they are something else entirely, especially if, as on this occasion, they are playing in front of a home crowd. Many of those present would have seen the band in their earliest days and there was a palpable sense of expectation as the band walked on stage and struck up the grievous hammer blow intro of Sad Eyed Evil (from Pequenas Puertas...). Immediately the difference between the records and the live band was apparent. Live there is a tension and a sense of barely repressed violence that is only hinted at on disc. The first 25 minutes of the show was some of the most intense live music I’ve seen in a long time. From that percussive dam-busting intro the first 4 songs, which were effortlessly segued, gathered momentum and reached a crescendo of force on Asalto. For a band that had been away for 5 years they were still astoundingly tight. The music was muscular, aggressive, and visceral. The rhythm section pushed the band forward with an imperative sense of urgency.

Songs coalesce unhurriedly. Guitars are used percussively, block chords pound and syncopate with an agile rhythm section in a style similar to a cross between James Brown and the Gang of Four. Unlike many of their European or American post rock counterparts, who seem to me to be a tad cold and mechanical, Manta Ray are more redolent of the 70s German rockers like Amon Duul, Can or Neu in that their music displays a passion and soulfulness which those bands had but which is now not always heard in modern rock. The end effect is mesmerizing and cathartic.


Nacho Vegas’ opening solo set failed to convince and in general he seemed rather disengaged. However he did return for the first Manta Ray encore to play slide guitar rather impressively with a glass (still containing what appeared to be whiskey) on Sol / Wide-O Blues. The band finished with a stunning “Cartografies” (one of the highlights from Esperanza) and was gone.

After the nearly 2 hour set I was exhausted, dazed but recharged. Just like I used to feel as a kid coming out of punk gigs in the late 70s. I can only hope that, if Manta Ray are not to reform full time, then there will at least be more of these one-off gigs in the future. This was a band which, live at least, still has some very potent music to deliver.

Wide-O Blues

Sol > Wide-O Blues (different angle)

Concert photos

Diez temas para que te acuerdes de Manta Ray (Spanish website Hipersonica's Manta RayTop10)



  1. Best band EVER

  2. Last saturday they played again. 2017-12-09. Yes, they are the best band ever!