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Weekend Music Review

Mexican Pop Star Gabriel Keeps It Fresh in Universal Show

October 19, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER

It is a measure of artistic integrity when a well-established star can change his repertoire every time he goes on a tour. On Friday, opening his annual visit to the Universal Amphitheatre, Juan Gabriel offered a show that was refreshingly new, rather than a duplicate of his previous performances. In the process he confirmed once again that he is still the most gifted singer-songwriter in the history of Mexican pop.

Beginning with the nostalgia-inducing "Noa Noa," the singer--whose three weekend shows will be followed by a finale on Friday--offered a dazzling first half-hour, marked by an uncanny ability to evoke the old-fashioned innocence and sadness of romantic love. In gems such as "Asi Fue," Gabriel combines catchy choruses with lyrics that express the resentment of a scorned lover with both venom and humor.

The singer's excellent band, which this time included two keyboardists, three backup vocalists and a mariachi ensemble, produced a well-rounded, opulent sound that fit perfectly with the performer's emotive manner.

Dressed in a velvet suit that enhanced his notoriously feminine demeanor, Gabriel never stopped connecting with his adoring audience during the three-hour show--although at times he did appear tired, with some effort showing in his renowned twirling and jumping.

He got an opportunity to rest when he invited Juan Carlos Coronel, a young Colombian singer who specializes in boleros, to join him. They began with a spirited duet on the cumbia classic "Pollera Colora," but instead of leaving while he was ahead, Coronel had Gabriel sit down and proceeded to sing one of the master's songs as a sort of tribute to him.

If anything, it was a demonstration of Gabriel's unique charisma as a performer. The band was the same, the composition was Gabriel's, but the result was tepid.

*

Juan Gabriel plays Friday at the Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, 8:15 p.m. $55.50 and $58. (818) 622-4440.

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