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Luis Miguel Offers a Shoutstanding Show

Pop music review: One night after taking a Grammy, the Latin heartthrob is a hit in Anaheim, despite somewhat tepid music.

February 28, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ANAHEIM — It doesn't hurt to win a Grammy the night before performing to a sold-out stadium. And Luis Miguel used that extra touch of euphoria to his advantage Thursday night in a crowd-pleasing concert at the Arrowhead Pond.

It wasn't Beatlemania, but pretty close. The mostly female audience celebrated the Latin heartthrob's recent award for best Latin pop performance by rewarding each one of his songs with hysterical screams.

And Miguel offered a show that justified his reputation from every possible angle. There were fireworks and hundreds of balloons. A symphony orchestra and a mariachi ensemble. Tango dancers and a highly competent, 13-piece band, including two backup singers and a four-man brass section.

But Miguel was the most compelling to watch. He has the looks of a Latin lover, and his natural, winning attitude makes him a favorite for teen Latinas, without being threatening enough to scare away their moms.

Musically, things were a little tepid, as Miguel treads a dangerous pop-rock path that can easily sidetrack into corniness. The performances were highly energetic, but the songs per se didn't offer much more than a few catchy choruses and disco-like synth effects.

Though the audience embraced the older hits enthusiastically, Miguel's newest bolero material brought the house down.

Like some other sensuous genres of Latin American music, the bolero as we know it is the product of Spanish folk songs assimilated by Cuban "trovadores."

Miguel has offered his own "bolero-lite" version of these songs, in three consecutive albums that generated a whole revival of the genre. The wispy "Sabor a Ti," for instance, became a poppy jewel when tackled by the singer's ambitious throat. But 'Besame Mucho," a classic of longing and nostalgia, was butchered by a disastrous arrangement that incorporated drums into the orchestral mix.

Soon after the boleros but before a finale loaded with uptempo material, a whole mariachi ensemble appeared on stage, for rollicking renditions of gorgeous Mexican fare.

This was arguably the most enchanting portion of the show. Though Miguel's bolero revival might seem like a calculated commercial move at first, the mariachi-backed tunes demonstrated that he can connect with his musical roots, and that he genuinely enjoys paying a heartfelt tribute to them.

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