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Pop Music Review

Crooner in Cruise Control

Luis Miguel has secured his place as Julio Iglesias' successor, but can he find new artistic challenges?

January 31, 2002|AGUSTIN GURZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 10 years of polishing his image as a mature romantic crooner, Luis Miguel has emerged as the successor to Julio Iglesias, the reigning Spanish heartthrob of a previous generation. When Iglesias set a box-office record with a series of 10 sold-out concerts at the Universal Amphitheatre in 1984, the princely newcomer was barely a teenager.

Now, with six consecutive shows this week at the same venue, Luis Miguel comes closer than any other performer to matching his predecessor's success. But unlike Iglesias, who drew multiethnic crowds in the wake of crossover duets with Diana Ross and Willie Nelson, Luis Miguel, who has resisted recording in English, performs for an audience that remains almost exclusively Latino.

The dashing Mexican with the million-dollar smile opened his show Tuesday with the new single "Amor, amor, amor," dispensing quickly with his rushed and heartless rendition of the tender, lilting classic. Appearing tanned and vigorous, Luis Miguel performed like a cross between Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, an old-school crooner in a black tuxedo who hops around and sweats like a rock star with tousled hair.

Paradoxically, Luis Miguel's current U.S. tour follows lukewarm sales of his new album, "Mis Romances," a fourth volume in his series of romantic standards. His repertoire of classic ballads and boleros sparked a Latin American nostalgia craze, beginning with 1991's "Romance." For the generation of fans who turned 20 along with their idol at the start of the decade, Luis Miguel would provide the first exposure to classics such as "El dia que me quieras" and "La ultima noche."

To those already familiar with such lyrical jewels, the singer's upbeat treatments at times crushed all their vintage sweetness, like doing a disco version of "My Funny Valentine."

But if Luis Miguel can sometimes overpower his material, his physical charisma and exceptional talent also combine to create moments of convincing passion on stage. Songs such as "Historia de un amor" and "Delirio" were especially effective Tuesday.

Those numbers came in the middle of the concert, after the singer had fussed for more than an hour with his earpiece, which lets him properly hear his punchy, nine-piece band. The temperamental perfectionist kept taking the small device on and off, giving frustrated signals to somebody offstage to adjust the volume. The sound problem wasn't noticeable from the audience, but his struggling became such a distraction that you felt like getting up and going backstage to fix it for him.

The singer seemed to relax after changing into loose shirts, first black then white. His short ranchera segment was forgettable except for a thrilling version of Guadalupe Trigo's postmodern mariachi composition "Mi Ciudad," an unusual and challenging choice.

By the show's climactic closing, Luis Miguel seemed completely in command, with fans standing and singing along to such early, adolescent hits as "La chica del bikini azul." Without returning for an encore, the singer left his audience ecstatic in a flourish of confetti, glitter and colored streamers.

But where does Luis Miguel go from here? Will he fade away like Iglesias? Or will he be bold enough to go beyond the matinee-idol mold and look for new material to redefine himself, rather than simply redefining old material?

Wherever he goes, Luis Miguel proved again Tuesday that he's got the magnetism to take us with him.

Luis Miguel plays through Sunday at the Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, 8:15 p.m. Friday and Sunday, $59 to $139. Other nights sold out. (818) 622-4440.

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