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Pop Music Review

Gabriel Offers Winning Vocal Mix of Melody and Pathos

October 09, 2000|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's no coincidence that most of Juan Gabriel's lyrics talk about revenge, about surviving the odds and emerging unscathed from emotional trials.

A dreamy kid who spent some of his youth in an orphanage, an effeminate performer who is often ridiculed by his fellow Mexicans, Gabriel has taken his own revenge by becoming the most prodigious and prolific singer-songwriter in his country.

Friday, opening his annual three-night run at the Universal Amphitheatre, Gabriel demonstrated once again that to visit his highly personal musical universe is to enter a world of lilting melody and heart-wrenching lyric that becomes impossible to forget once you have experienced its irresistible appeal.

Gabriel's fragile voice can easily turn into a painful rasp during the course of a single evening. This time, however, he was in top shape, performing three hours of pop and ranchera hits backed by a massive orchestra that created a wall of sound of operatic proportions.

Toward the middle of the show, Gabriel engaged in a conceit few performers could get away with. Starting with 1971, he sang a major hit from every successive year of his career. Such a grandiloquent ploy smacked of narcissism, but it was hard to complain when perfect pop nuggets such as "Costumbres," "Amor Eterno" and "Siempre en Mi Mente" followed one another with clockwork precision.

Gabriel has frequently helped launch the careers of other artists, and on Friday he brought out Los Angeles mariachi singer Nydia Rojas to join him on "Fue un Placer Conocerte," a romantic duet marked by deliciously bitter lyrics. Although the tune was made a classic by Gabriel and Spanish singer Rocio Durcal, Rojas stood up to the challenge with maturity and grace. The fact that she's preparing an entire album of Gabriel standards is further proof of the indelible influence the man has had on generation after generation of Latin artists.

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