Juan Gabriel presided over a lavish spectacle and sumptuous musical feast at the Sprint Center on Saturday.
A euphoric audience of about 10,000 watched the iconic Mexican artist and his colossal backing ensemble entertain for more than 2 1/2 hours. They heard Gabriel, 65, perform in a multitude of styles ranging from traditional rancheras to gaudy hip-hop.
The man known as “El Divo de Juarez” has sold more than 100 million albums in a career that began in the early 1970s. “Los Dúo,” Gabriel’s most recent chart-topping release, is a duet album that features contributions from stars ranging from Latin rock musician Juanes to American pop group Fifth Harmony.
Gabriel is often compared with Elton John — the two are reportedly in negotiations to record a duet for Gabriel’s next album — but Gabriel’s penchant for melodramatic ballads and his success as a songwriter for other artists more closely parallels the career of Neil Diamond.
Saturday’s riveting performance demonstrated why Gabriel is considered a pivotal cultural force in Latin America. He refuses to conform to the conventional machismo persona. Wearing heavy eye shadow and lipstick, Gabriel vamped like Liza Minnelli during a smoky version of “Yo No Nací Para Amar” and cooled himself with a Japanese fan as he sang the gorgeous “Costumbres.”
The multi-generational audience adored his colorful antics. Fans laughed at his jokes and roared with pride every time Gabriel shouted “Viva, Mexico.” Almost every one of the more than two dozen songs on the set list was greeted with delirious cheers of recognition.
Gabriel spoke with a heavy rasp, but his potent singing was undiminished. The distinctive sob that characterizes his voice made interpretations of the lovely “Querida” and the sentimental “Abrázame Muy Fuerte” particularly stirring.
Zona Prieta, a hip-hop group from Colombia, provided a garish coda to “No Tengo Dinero.” Gabriel serenaded scantily clad dancer Paola Miranda during the steamy “María José.”
Two sets of musicians accompanied Gabriel simultaneously and separately. The primary group wore matching white suits and included 10 vocalists and a six-piece horn section. Six violinists were part of a large mariachi band that donned imposing sombreros.
The resulting orchestral flourishes to songs including “Amor Eterno” might have seemed overwrought in a smaller venue, but the over-the-top approach filled the arena with blissful schmaltz at Saturday’s impeccable concert.