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Luis Miguel gives a powerhouse show

By Laura Emerick / Foto: Oscar Lopez / suntimes.com

For most of his long career, Latin pop star Luis Miguel could have been billed as "The International Man of Mystery."

After all, he rarely grants interviews, manages to keep his busy private life ultra-private (despite the endless string of fabulous babes he cavorts with) and projects a reserved, at times downright chilly, demeanor. Fans might recall his 2000 concert at the United Center, which started 90 minutes late without a word of apology.

But the Luis Miguel of old seemingly had disappeared when he performed Thursday night at the Allstate Arena. Striding out on the stage after a five-minute overture and video-clip reel that Elvis might have admired, he was all smiles, all upbeat attitude and genuinely happy to be there.

Dressed as usual in a crisp black suit, he looked thinner but as suave as ever. For years, he's modeled himself after his idol, Frank Sinatra, and at 38, the onetime teen idol -- known to his fans as Luismi-- has finally grown into that finger-snapping, Vegas-cool persona. (Staying true to this adopted, old-school vibe, he even uses a corded microphone.)

The 90-minute concert displayed Luismi in his many musical phases: Latin pop crooner, bolero specialist, pop-rock swinger and mariachi master.

Beginning with "Tu Imagination" from his latest disc, "Complices" (2008), he then ran through such favorites as "Suave," "Hasta Que Me Olvides" and "Tu y Yo," on which he broke into a few bars of "My Kind of Town," in salute to Chicago and the Chairman of the Board.

In between the uptempo numbers, he offered a sampling of his "Romances" repertoire, such as "Inolvidable" and "No Me Platiques Mas." Like the most assured crooners, Miguel conjures up his own intimate world in song, creating the illusion that he's singing directly to you.

But Luismi appeared to be at his peak on his ranchera section, featuring selections from his 2004 disc, "Mexico en el Piel." Although Miguel often performs with a full mariachi band, this time the mariachi effects were supplied by synthesizer and his 10-piece pop ensemble.

In any case, Luismi delivered the compete essence of Mexicanismo on "Si Nos Dejan," "Sabes Una Cosa" and "De Que Manera Te Olvido." In ranchera mode, where his rich baritone sounds most at home, he even can hold his own with greats of the past.

For an encore, he returned with a Spanish version of "Reach Out (I'll Be There)." Somewhere the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs was smiling.