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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Mexican Pop Star's Show Is Power-Driven

October 24, 1994|ENRIQUE LOPETEGUI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Was this really a bad night for Juan Gabriel? It depends of how you look at it.

Despite a mild but constant hoarseness, the 44-year-old Mexican superstar singer-songwriter-producer took care of business with heart and charisma Friday, in the first of three shows at the Universal Amphitheatre.

Presenting "Gracias por Esperar," his first studio album in seven years after legal battles with his record label, Juan Gabriel struggled for the first three songs until he just concentrated on feeling and fun instead of technique. He then delivered a stunning three-hour concert that had it all--a nine-piece choir with the power and presence of a gospel troupe, a 20-piece orchestra, three cameras floating on booms, two giant screens and medleys of romantic, cumbia , bolero and mariachi tunes mixed with selected classics and new songs.

Despite its length, the well-produced show was a greatly entertaining presentation that confirmed that Juan Gabriel, if not a great singer, is a versatile, gifted melody-maker with a special ability to add twists and turns to a seemingly simple pop song.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 25, 1994 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Gabriel's concert-- In Monday's review of Juan Gabriel's concert at Universal Amphitheatre, his accompanying mariachi group was misidentified. It was Mariachi Arriba Juarez.

At one point during his hilariously showstopping mariachi set--where he made fun of the Mexican macho myth and sang of heroes wearing tennis shoes instead of boots--he had the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan playing while the orchestra's electric bass, guitar and drums gradually came in with a sustained pop groove that, imperceptibly, transformed a full-fledged mariachi sound into a pleasant pop fusion. In someone else's hands, that might have ended in an insufferable concoction.

Unfortunately, the fever pitch decreased when Juan Gabriel introduced singer Lorenzo Antonio, an average performer whose energy was not enough to justify a pointless four-song set, and another guest singer, Stephanie (a former backup singer for Julio Iglesias), whose two-song set seemed out of context despite her vocal capabilities.

Juan Gabriel, more commercial-minded than other serious Latin hit writers, is nevertheless talented enough to sell tens of millions of records without cheap pandering.

With a new recording contract, this was a test for the "second coming" of Juan Gabriel, despite the fact that he has remained popular without releasing new material.

His show Friday raised questions about his voice, but left no doubt as to the power of the rest of his arsenal, which seemed intact and more than enough to keep the fans on their feet for most of the night.

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