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Pop Music Review

Not the Same Ricky Martin in Intimate Key Club Show

December 13, 2000|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As the leader of the so-called Latin music revolution that took the U.S. by storm last year, Ricky Martin routinely ignites waves of hysteria among his fans. So the Puerto Rican singer's appearance Monday at the Key Club figured to attract swarms of paparazzi and mobs of screaming women.

But instead it was a surprisingly low-key affair. Martin calmly walked the red carpet outside the Sunset Strip nightclub, pausing to answer questions from a handful of television reporters.

His performance before a capacity audience of about 600 radio-giveaway winners and invited guests (including Sting) was designed to promote his new album, "Sound Loaded," but the 45-minute set was more about Martin's older hits--an odd decision, since "Sound Loaded" could apparently use some help.

Three weeks after its release, the collection has slipped to No. 13 on the national sales chart. In contrast, "Ricky Martin," his English-language debut, was one of 1999's biggest sellers.

The Key Club audience sang along on the silly chorus of the current hit "She Bangs" and did some bon-bon shaking to the Santana rip-off "Amor." Things really came to life when Martin offered bouncy crowd favorites such as "The Cup of Life" and "Livin' La Vida Loca." Musically, the high point of the evening was a semi-acoustic version of the ballad "Vuelve," laced with a cascade of bombastic drums and hyperactive guitars, hinting at Martin's infatuation with arena rock.

But after playing arenas himself all last year, Martin seemed to have a hard time adjusting to the intimacy of the small venue. Sure, the extended thank-yous to the fans were uttered with utmost sincerity. But the music, which lacks the urgency of rock en espanol and the grit of genuine salsa, sounded monotonous without the fireworks, confetti, jumbo video screens and other accouterments of the full Martin production.

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