Igle­sias, Pit­bull seize a mo­ment

The singers tap into these raw, po­lit­i­cally charged times to amp up their per­for­mances.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - MIKAEL WOOD POP MU­SIC CRITIC mikael.wood@la­times.com Twit­ter: @mikael­wood

The singers’ sep­a­rate per­for­mances touch on po­lit­i­cal themes at Sta­ples Cen­ter.

En­rique Igle­sias saw the mak­ings of a teach­able mo­ment.

Stand­ing on­stage Sat­ur­day night be­fore a ca­pac­ity crowd at Sta­ples Cen­ter, the Madrid-born singer asked, “How many peo­ple here speak Span­ish?”

The re­sponse was ro­bust but not quite unan­i­mous — an in­di­ca­tion that some in the au­di­ence might not un­der­stand what he was about to say. Rather than re­treat, though, Igle­sias opted for a lit­tle out­reach: Think of his next song as Span­ish 101, he sug­gested, be­fore eas­ing into the gen­tle thrum of “Cuando Me Enamoro.”

It wasn’t the only op­por­tu­nity for learn­ing that pop lis­ten­ers have had lately.

Last week Bill­board’s Hot 100 was topped for the fourth time by “Des­pac­ito,” the smash hit by Puerto Rico’s Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yan­kee fea­tur­ing Justin Bieber. It’s the first Span­ish­language song to reach No. 1 on that chart since “Macarena” got there more than 20 years ago.

“Des­pac­ito’s” suc­cess, of course, is es­pe­cially re­mark­able be­cause it comes just as a wave of anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment rolls through the United States, which co­in­cides with Pres­i­dent Trump’s ef­fort to build a wall along the Mex­i­can bor­der.

A plea­sure-seek­ing so­phis­ti­cate with his own mu­sic to pro­mote, Igle­sias didn’t men­tion Trump or “Des­pac­ito” dur­ing Sat­ur­day’s con­cert, part of an ex­ten­sive tour with the Mi­ami rap­per Pit­bull. But the show still felt charged with the elec­tric­ity of our time.

Igle­sias, dressed in his trade­mark de­signer-para­mil­i­tary garb, opened with “Súbeme la Ra­dio,” one of sev­eral ex­cel­lent Span­ish­language sin­gles he’s re­leased since his last stu­dio al­bum, 2014’s “Sex and Love.” And through­out the night he re­peat­edly jumped from the stage to grip the hands of fans who clearly view him as a thought leader.

Face-to-face in­ter­ac­tion is noth­ing new for Igle­sias. For years his con­certs in­cluded a re­li­able set piece built around his bal­lad “Hero,” in which he’d se­lect a woman from the au­di­ence to ser­e­nade; of­ten the bit would end with the singer kiss­ing the woman on the mouth.

At Sta­ples, though, Igle­sias sang “Hero” by him­self and touched folks in­stead dur­ing his up­tempo ma­te­rial, which made it seem less a sim­u­la­tion of ro­mance than a kind of man-of-the-peo­ple move.

Pit­bull was char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally more di­rect in his pop­ulism even as he stalked the stage in an ex­pertly tai­lored black suit and sun­glasses.

The son of Cuban refugees, the rap­per has long made his rags-to-riches tale a ba­sis of his mu­sic, which com­bines throb­bing club beats with ex­hor­ta­tions to seize the day and reach for the stars and so on.

But here you could de­tect a cur­rent of anger be­neath the op­ti­mism, as when he in­tro­duced “Give Me Ev­ery­thing” with a pointed mono­logue about the non­sense of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics — he used a stronger word — and why “a coun­try built by im­mi­grants is telling us to keep im­mi­grants out.”

Like Igle­sias, Pit­bull had taken an in­for­mal poll of the crowd be­fore he made his ap­peal, ask­ing how many white peo­ple, black peo­ple and Lati­nos were in the house. And the re­sponse no doubt em­bold­ened him.

But the man had knowl­edge to drop no mat­ter what. The things he had to say couldn’t wait.

Pho­tographs by Michael Owen Baker For The Times

EN­RIQUE IGLE­SIAS trots across the stage Sat­ur­day night in front of a full house at Sta­ples Cen­ter.

PIT­BULL lifts spir­its with a rous­ing set prior to Igle­sias’ en­er­getic ap­pear­ance.

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