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Bebe gives it her best

After shunning the cameras, the Latin Grammy winner delivers a wrenching, raucous performance.

November 07, 2005|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

Anticipation ran high for the West Coast concert debut of Spanish singer Bebe, fresh from her win as best new artist at the Latin Grammys. When the show started Friday at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood, just the singer's soulful voice could be heard, a soft lament of loneliness and longing that gradually silenced the rude chatterboxes at the bar in the back.

When the star finally appeared, hair tousled and bony frame revealed under a sleeveless top, camera flashes suddenly blinded her.

She first covered her eyes with one arm, then completely turned her back and stepped away from the audience.

Facing the rear of the stage, she continued singing -- as if to the darkness. If people didn't get the hint, she later made herself clear: "I think you came to hear music, not take photos."

That entrance spoke volumes about the talented 27-year-old who was recently thrust, somewhat reluctantly, into an international spotlight after getting five nominations in this year's Latin music awards, the only artist represented in all four major categories.

She only won one. But her powerful nightclub performance, by turns rousing, raucous, rebellious and wrenching, proved she deserved much more. And it adds to the stature of Spain as a leading source of the world's best pop music in Spanish.

Intense, impetuous and independent, Bebe performed several numbers from her unconventional debut CD, "Pafuera Telaranas" (Out With the Cobwebs), nominated for best album. She was backed by a raft of outstanding musicians, including producer Carlos Jean, who kept rotating positions and instruments on stage, sometimes doing rock and rap numbers without her.

The band's arrangements used a seamless assortment of styles -- flamenco, reggae, hip-hop, samba, ska, rock and folk. And the party-like pace of the show was as free-flowing as the fusion. The spontaneity brought an extra emotional punch to Bebe's songs, which often start slowly and swell to a vigorous climax.

Though temperamental, the charismatic singer can also warm the room with her radiant smile.

She joked with fans, pogoed like a punk rocker and sometimes dropped down on the stage to sing out of sight, disappearing into an aching emptiness.

During a long encore, the sometime actress donned a blond wig for a wicked satirical sendup as an airhead daughter of President Bush, singing cheerily in gringo-accented Spanish about her daddy's electric chair that could accommodate more people if it were an electric sofa, thus helping to wipe out world hunger.

Born Mari Nieves Rebolledo, Bebe hails from Extremadura, the region in southwest Spain that gave the world Cortes, Pizarro and other conquistadors. She moved to Madrid 10 years ago to study acting but began singing with her guitar in the capital's buzzing bar scene.

Her debut album on Virgin/EMI has sold more than 300,000 copies in Spain, capturing the nation's youth with its striking mix of intimate reflections and outspoken views on social concerns, the environment, consumerism and the treatment of women.

In her hit "Malo" (Bad), an anthem against domestic violence, she moves from plaintive weakness to ferocious revenge with an outburst of punk energy.

Nominated for best song and best record, the number's raw language was bleeped during the Latin Grammy show telecast on Thursday, as was part of her acceptance speech. Bebe didn't miss the chance to slam the censorship during her concert the following night.

Nobody can say whether the notoriously press-wary artist will use the Latin Grammy spotlight to propel her career. It didn't help that she abruptly canceled most scheduled interviews before and after her win.

One thing is certain. If Bebe decides to conquer the world, she's going to do it her way.

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