Even before he unleashed the Latin music craze in 1999 by choosing to live la vida loca, Ricky Martin was already a consummate live performer. His concerts included frequent nods to the roots of Latin music – the frenzy of Brazilian batucada grooves and the pungent flavors of Afro-Caribbean dance formats. Unfortunately, the Puerto Rican singer’s current tour leaves many of those elements behind in favor of a bombastic spectacle that quickly becomes too loud and jarring for its own good.
A bit sad, when you consider that Martin is touring behind one of the best albums of his career. “Musica + Alma + Sexo” is a more sophisticated and sensitively layered effort than your average Latin blockbuster. However, this is also the singer’s first tour since publicly admitting that he is gay. As a result, the musical side of Friday’s perf was constantly overshadowed by a relentless celebration of liberation and sexual freedom.
There’s nothing wrong with erotic imagery, whatever its orientation may be. But did it all have to be so cheesy? Watching the black and white video clips of Martin’s naked torso bound in chains; the trio of whip-wielding dominatrix dancers teasing him during the reggaeton-pop anthem “Frio”; and the male musicians dressed in leather prancing about an industrial scaffolding straight out of a tacky music video from the ’80s, you couldn’t help but wonder: is this really what Ricky Martin has to say about sex?
Final segment of the show brought Martin back to zesty tropical pop territory. Not surprisingly, it was received with relentless enthusiasm by the more-often-than-not lukewarm crowd. “La Bomba,” “Pegate” and especially “The Cup Of Life” were wonderful examples of accessible Latin music – the hummable choruses enhanced by syncopated timbale beats and hip-swaying brass riffs, the juncture where art and commerce can get together and still be good friends.
Still, Friday’s happiest moment was a semi-acoustic rendition of the 2006 hit “Tu Recuerdo,” wrapped in a soulful flamenco vibe, with velvety female vocals – Martin and friends sitting together, performing rootsy rhythms on wooden South American cajones . Less is more, is the moral of the story, a lesson that all gargantuan pop stars would do well to consider. Perhaps, in the near future, Mr. Martin will choose to showcase his considerable musical talent on a more subdued scale.