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Up Front: Concerts | POP MUSIC REVIEW

Shakira's dance of dynamism

The `polyglot' artist embraces her roots in an invigorating display of pride and talent.

August 17, 2006|Ann Powers | Times Staff Writer

Shakira is one of the most successful musician of Lebanese descent on the planet. The Colombian-born singer is also Latin pop's defining crossover artist; call her the most charismatic rock star of the new century and you wouldn't be wrong, either. Nobody has more of a right to claim the overused honorific "polyglot" than this 29-year-old child of a half-Italian mother and an Arabic father. Wowing the predominantly Latino crowd at Staples Center on Tuesday, she showed that she's absorbed every lesson Robert Plant, Madonna and Selena had to offer and still managed to completely distinguish herself.

In a set that reached back to her first Spanish-language hits and concluded with this summer's monster hit "Hips Don't Lie," Shakira demonstrated what genuinely multicultural stardom looks and sounds like. It means proudly displaying your roots, demonstrated by a set list full of Spanish lyrics and choreography based around the belly-dancing that Shakira learned as a child, and assuming that it's not a problem to integrate those influences with whatever else moves your spirit. It also requires projecting an individuality that's stronger than any one influence. That's not an issue for this radiantly self-assured artist, whose only apparent flaw is the lack of a substantial dark side.

Greeting her audience in English after singing two songs in Spanish, Shakira made sure to balance her aspirations toward her English-speaking mainstream with love and respect for her Latino fans.

Throughout the show, Shakira's Spanish-language songs sounded best; her comfort in that language allowed the big-lunged belter a better chance to play with her dynamic range. She went for drama on the ballads -- especially "No," during which she wore a courtly red gown with sleeves that transformed into giant scarves in a spectacle reminiscent of a Hong Kong martial-arts film -- but she also played coy with a little-girl croon, as on the bossa nova-influenced "Obtener Un Si."

Her English-language songs, while compelling, tended to hit one big, plaintive note. Shakira, who learned English only five years ago, hasn't yet learned to laugh in her new tongue.

For that, and everything else when words failed her, she had her body. Shakira's moves are so notorious that Verizon Wireless sponsored a "Dance Like Shakira" contest before the show. Unlike almost any of her female pop peers, she didn't call in a score of dancers as reinforcement. She gyrated, strutted and did the robot all by herself. The members of her large band only joined in when she coerced them.

Shaking her mane like a heavy-metal goddess or caressing the microphone stand like a showgirl, wearing shiny belly-dancer's garb or rock-practical cargo pants and tank top, Shakira used the wordless lexicon of dance to communicate beyond her songs. She even strummed a guitar -- a sparkling pink electric one or a deep-blue hollow-body one -- showing she could take an arena rock stance with total authority.

The music supporting Shakira's dynamic singing and dancing also jumped barriers, though at times its fusion sound didn't feel that new. Her band boasted some skilled players, especially keyboardist Albert Menendez and drummer Brendan Buckley, but the band as a whole sometimes veered too much toward the sonic middle.

"Underneath Your Clothes," with its generic builds, could have belonged to Shania Twain; the mid-tempo "Antologia" came across like a slightly dated power ballad. It wasn't surprising that some of Shakira's songs, written when she was barely an adult, would be less musically sophisticated than others, but the bounce of her performance was most invigorating when the music showed the range that its prime maker possessed.

"Hips Don't Lie" has that range; though it's actually a remake of a not-so-memorable song by Wyclef Jean and Claudette Ortiz, Shakira's presence turned the silly ditty into an anthem. Jean, who opened the show with a typical life-of-the-party set, joined Shakira for the finale. The affable rapper/singer/guitarist became so involved in the party atmosphere that when a fan burst onstage and started dirty dancing with him, he joined right in.

"L.A. is crazy!" Jean declared as the woman was dragged off kicking and screaming. Shakira, who had started the whole frenzy in the first place, just kept smiling, doing her Arabic-Latin dance and enjoying her many selves.

*

Shakira

Where: Arrowhead Pond, 2965 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Price: $19.50 to $90 (sold out)

Info: (714) 704-2500

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