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Bandidos, dancing horses and Joan Sebastian

November 28, 2005|Ernesto Lechner | Special to The Times

Plenty of Latin music stars emerge onstage sporting colorful wardrobe, gliding on moving platforms or perhaps surrounded by a bevy of sexy chorus girls.

Few, however, begin their shows on a dancing horse.

Then again, there is only one Joan Sebastian, and his performance Friday at Staples Center underscored the near mythical status that this veteran singer-songwriter from Guerrero state enjoys within the fickle landscape of regional Mexican music.

Beginning with the epic-sounding "Me Gustas," Sebastian performed a variety of numbers while riding three different horses on a specially built dirt arena adjacent to the stage.

At times, the horses would gallop wildly, nearly out of control, moving their hooves to the music. Sebastian did not budge.

His musicians (all 27 of them) remained onstage, creating that lovely rumpus typical of the traditional banda sinaloense style, defined by massive riffs of tuba and clarinet suggesting a pack of drunken pachyderms.

The music is narrative by nature. "He unloaded his gun on the bandit," sang Sebastian during "Bandido de Amores," and the crackling beat on the timbales mimicked eloquently the sound of the gun being emptied on the unfortunate bandido.

A fistfight broke out in the bleachers next to the stage, and the singer brought his horse closer to the action, watching the melee with interest while belting out -- flawlessly -- a tender ballad called "Amorcito Mio" (My Little Love).

His voice sounded hoarse at times, but his energy level was beyond reproach throughout, combining rootsy touches of banda sinaloense with big band pop, even the occasional cumbia with retro guitar licks and sweet accordion flourishes.

Earlier in the evening, the inimitable Paquita la del Barrio unleashed a torrent of norteno-tinged insults directed at her favorite target: men.

The Mexican singer's material transitions effortlessly from the profane to the sublime. She elicits the adoration of her female fans by slamming macho men with her trademark cry of "┬┐Me estas oyendo, inutil?" (Are you listening, useless one?)

But Paquita can change gears just as easily. "Lose all respect for me," this large, imposing woman cooed during "Pierdeme el Respeto." "Make all sorts of indecent proposals to me."

Like most genuine expressions of Latin American culture, Paquita's raison d'etre is a walking paradox -- intriguing, delicious and thoroughly unforgettable.

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