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Luis Miguel on fire at McCallum show
By Bruce Fessier / The Desert Sun

The McCallum Theatre made up for years of empty promises of more Hispanic programming Wednesday with a remarkable concert by Luis Miguel.

The McCallum has presented concerts by such great Hispanic artists as Julio Iglesias, Jose Jose and the late Tito Puente, but they certainly have been disproportionate with the size of the valley’s Hispanic population.

But the 33-year-old Miguel won the hearts of an overwhelmingly Hispanic capacity audience. He delivered his entire concert in Spanish and didn’t sing the English-language song he recorded as a duet with local legend Frank Sinatra, "Come Fly With Me."

But even non-Spanish speakers could realize this veteran of more than 20 years on stage and TV is a compelling story teller. With his brown, collar-length hair combed straight back and his wide, easy smile, he has a sexy, charismatic presence that could put most of People magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive to shame.

To a Hispanic woman like Gisele Aguilar of Cathedral City, the concert was unlike anything that had ever come to the Coachella Valley. "Awesome."

Miguel’s elaborate set, featuring artificial flames flickering atop six marble columns and a giant screen that often featured video images of fires, virtually testified to this man’s skill as a torch singer. But it could also have symbolized his fiery personality or rhythmic music.

Miguel, born in Puerto Rico but raised in Mexico, features a horn section, Latin percussionist and drummer, but doesn’t play salsa like fellow Puerto Rican Puente. And his music is distinguished by a sequenced sound from two keyboard players, but it’s not as saccharine as Iglesias can get.

Directed by Miguel, the sound perfectly fits his songs and his songs are remarkably diverse.

He’s adept at building mid-tempo "romantica" ballads with key changes that can artificially generate excitement. But Miguel feeds off the audience as much as his arrangements to create excitement. He used the crowd like a choir as they sang to his "Palabra de Honor" medley, and he stretched the call-and-response until the audience reached fever pitch during "La Incondicional."

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the loud evening came when Miguel’s trumpeter played the first few blasts of "Mucho Corazon" to launch a medley of Mexican songs. But he segued easily from that genre to a contemporary dance set before finishing with an oldies rock ‘n’ roll medley. The audience stood through the encore, the torch song, "Te Necesito," and remained standing until well after the lights went up.

Part of Miguel’s magic is his looks, and he played on that by making eye contact with fans and by blowing up his image on the giant screen. He came out in the first half in a classic suit and tie, with a white handkerchief in his breast pocket to complement his white cuffs, and changed after "La Incondicional" into a black, open-necked shirt with what looked like a casually sexy black velour coat.

Climbing on a platform in front of the giant screen during the dance medley, it was hard to ignore his playful/passionate image.

He exhorted the crowd to dance and have fun and it was a demand that was hard to refuse.