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Ricky Martin

Ricky Martin, just about the hottest pop thing going these days, started his sold-out Staples Center show with his huge party hit "Livin' La Vida Loca," a kick-off move that may sound like a bold strategy, getting the over-played smash song out of the way early, and all.

With:
Band: Janusz Bakun, David Cabrera, Hector Infanzon, Danny Lopez, Waldo Madera, Carlos David Perez, Frankie Perez, Madeline Rosado, Jose Sibajas, Arnaldo Torres, Victor Vazquez

Ricky Martin, just about the hottest pop thing going these days, started his sold-out Staples Center show with his huge party hit “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” a kick-off move that may sound like a bold strategy, getting the over-played smash song out of the way early, and all.

But the still-seated crowd seemed caught off guard by the big opening, and it wasn’t until about halfway into the glitzy 90-minute perf that both performer — who’s halfway into a 24-city U.S. itinerary — and audience seemed in synch.

Following a video introduction that showed Martin, 27, in a fantasy sequence driving his Mustang (Ford Motor is a tour sponsor) while fleeing faux fans and paparazzi, the smiling singer appeared in the flesh on the elaborately designed stage atop his car (complete with a familiar fast food antenna ball), and launched into “La Vida” before attendees knew what hit them.

The ensuing grandiose production — comprising equal parts Las Vegas glitz, Salsa club energy and rock concert cliche — featured a mix of many of the songs from Martin’s 6-month old, multi-platinum English-language debut “Ricky Martin” (C2/Columbia), along with the best from his previous four Sony-released Spanish collections.

But take away all the scantily-clad dancers, eye-catching stage construction, huge video screens, myriad light rigs and the big, busy and talented band, and what’s left is simply a good-looking guy whose relentless energy and infectious personality overshadow a lack of artistic depth.

Martin stated early in the show that “we’re uniting the Americas,” but if that was a reference to the ensuing music offered here, then his idea of integrative music is overwrought power ballads (“Love You for a Day”) and schmaltzy attempts at eclecticism (the Santana-wannabe “Marcia Balla”).

“Spanish Eyes,” a mid-show upbeat Latin rocker dedicated to Martin’s home of Puerto Rico, featured a rare chance for the big band to tear loose, and this was as close as the star came to achieving a real connection with his now-awake audience.

The video that followed, showing Martin watching himself perform in a club, quickly blew that mood.

“Vuelve,” the title track from his 1998 Spanish-language album, offered a mildly interesting songwriting twist, going from a tender acoustic guitar intro to a hard rock climax, while the childish “Shake Your Bob-Bon” was accompanied by lots of video close-ups of the female dancers’ mid-sections, prompting the evening’s loudest applause.

Elsewhere, conveyor belts and randomly rising platforms transported Martin and his fellow entertainers about and above the eye-catching stage. At one point Martin was under a bright spotlight banging away at a set of bongo drums, looking much better than he sounded.

If nothing else, this ultimately tedious show was a reminder that it is success and money that create these impressive concert spectacles, not necessarily talent.

Martin’s sold-out tour hits the Anaheim Pond on Saturday.

Ricky Martin

Staples Center; 20,000 seats; $95 top

Production: Presented by Nederlander, MTV, Pepsi-Cola Co., Ford Motor Co. Reviewed Nov. 13, 1999.

Cast: Band: Janusz Bakun, David Cabrera, Hector Infanzon, Danny Lopez, Waldo Madera, Carlos David Perez, Frankie Perez, Madeline Rosado, Jose Sibajas, Arnaldo Torres, Victor VazquezMusical director: Arturo Ortiz; dance captain: Nikki Pantenburg.

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