The growing list of major artists you are surprised to see play at
the Santa Barbara Bowl grew by one on Saturday night. The
shamelessly romantic, shamelessly entertaining Mexican singer Luis
Miguel is a global phenom who plays in soccer stadiums, arenas and
amphitheaters in Mexico, the U.S. and Europe. For his Santa Barbara
debut, Miguel downsized to a mere 4,500 seat hall, full to the brim.
After having made multi-platinum albums and scooped up Grammy awards
going back more than a decade, Miguel has been a part of the
international pop landscape, with a special place in the Latin music
scene. His latest album has the age-revealing title "33", from which
much of Saturday's set came. A singer whose star rose dramatically
while still a teenager, Miguel is still young blood, as romantic
But he has also been around long enough to watch the musical
landsacpe shift around him. His sentimental pop sound, which mixes
heated ballads and post-disco groovers sometimes reminiscent of old
Peter Cetera songs and other lite rock models, may be out of touch
with the current, more adventurous Latin pop direction. On his own
terms, though, Miguel is a dynamic old-school performer whose
handsome visage (with three, coun'em, costume changes), suave stage
presence and a strong voice seemingly incapable of mistakes, still
soars in the live arena.
Saturday's performance had all the right elements in place for a
slick, professional display of musical goods. A tight 11-piece backup
band provided unerring, just-like-the-record support for Miguel's
vocals. The stage set included square columns with faux torches and
garlands. Giant video screens displayed different visual effects and
such imagery as rolling ocean waves and a furling Mexican flag,
usually flanking a huge central screen with the singer's looming,
Unfortunately, this night Miguel was unahppy with the monitor mix in
his earpieces, and made numerous gestures of exasperation to the
monitor mixer in the wings. Meanwhile, the sound in the house was
near-perfect, as clean as the musical execution. And frustration
didn't keep Miguel from delivering a great show, or from pressing
flesh with women in the front row. The woman sitting next to me, a
avowed Miguel fan, explained that he had seemed much more relaxed the
night before in Las Vegas. Not incidentallly, Miguell's Vegas
credentials are in order, as neatly-dressed big-voiced romantic.
New songs like the upbeat "Con Tus Besos" and the earnestly, Chicago-
esque ballad "Devuelveme El Amor," with its jazzy keyboard, gained in
power live and in person. Delivering the new material is high on the
agenda, but Miguel swerved back over the story so far, covering older
songs in medleys and drawing generous audience for songs from his
acclaimed 1997 bolero project, "romances."
Other crowd favorites in the 90-minutes set included "Que Nivel De
Mujer" and "La Media Vuelta."
For an encore, Miguel pulled out another new tune, "Te Necesito."
Oddly, he stopped the band for a long pause just before the end of
the tune, a space into which the crowd noise swelled, before he laid
down the son'gs final syllable. He slipped off stage at 9:54 pm, too
late for a second encore, given the 10 pm curfew. By then, we had
gotten a polished impassioned earful from a romantic legend.