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Pop Music Review

Salsa Is Superb but Lacking an Ingredient

March 30, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER

For the last decade or so, singer and band leader Oscar D'Leon has repeatedly demonstrated that his is simply the best live salsa show in the business. The Venezuelan, famous for exhausting his audience long before he shows any signs of being tired, brought a 16-piece band to the House of Blues on Friday night, extracting new, majestic textures from old favorites such as "Calculadora" and "Manicero," while adding brief, jazzy instrumentals to his distinctive brand of rootsy, technically intricate salsa.

Friday's show was in many ways trademark D'Leon: The frantic succession of songs, the occasional bolero, the superlative keyboard work and the ladies who climb on stage for a bit of impromptu exhibitionism were all there. The only thing missing was that extra touch of inspiration that makes D'Leon's best performances so memorable.

The venue of choice might have a lot to do with it. The sold-out House of Blues can be a claustrophobic room, and on Friday the dancers pushed each other throughout the club, with inevitable fights erupting once in a while. A larger, salsa-friendly place such as the Grand Avenue or the Sportsmen's Lodge would have made a big difference for dancers and listeners alike.

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