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Live review: Ricky Martin at the Nokia Theatre

May 8, 2011 |  8:07 pm

Ricky martin nokia theatre
Sex became an act of protest in Ricky Martin's concert Friday night at the Nokia Theatre, where every hip thrust carried the charge of this Puerto Rican pop star's latest message. "All I want is equality," he said near the end of the show. "The same for everybody."

Martin's freedom-fighter guise signaled an unlikely shift from the fun-loving hedonist he portrayed in glossy late-'90s hits such as "Livin' la Vida Loca" and "Shake Your Bon-Bon." It's a turn toward politics rooted in the personal: Last year the singer, 39, came out proudly as "a fortunate homosexual man" (as he put it in an announcement on his website), and Friday's show -- the first of two L.A. dates on his world tour -- seemed to reflect years of pent-up frustration.

"I'll be true to myself," he sang (in Spanish) in "Basta Ya," a song from his strong new album, "Música + Alma + Sexo"; elsewhere, in an interstitial video piece, one of Martin's dancers proclaimed, "I know who I am. Be yourself."

Yet if Martin's viewpoint had evolved, his choice of delivery device hadn't.

At the Nokia this former member of the Latin boy band Menudo led a group of 18 performers through a nearly two-hour production filled with costume changes and choreography. A three-story scaffold at center stage provided places for dancers to slide down poles and shirtless guitarists to stand while peeling off dramatic solos; lasers shot out over audience members' heads during the thumping, disco-inspired "Más."

Though he seemed most engaged Friday with up-tempo material from "Música + Alma + Sexo," Martin sang older songs as well, including the romantic ballad "Vuelve," before which he promised he planned to "leave [his] soul onstage tonight," and "Fuego Contra Fuego," his debut solo single. ("I wanna go back in time," he said -- not at all convincingly -- in an introduction to the latter.)

Ricky martin nokia theater The singer grouped his handful of mainstream American hits into a single clump, revving up "Livin' la Vida Loca" to such a breakneck gallop that you wondered if he was finding out how quickly he could get through it.

An especially sex-obsessed section midway through the concert emphasized Martin's happy liberation from the strictures of those crossover days. But what began in "Frio" as an appealingly provocative tangle with a leather-clad woman wielding a whip turned jokey by the time the third dominatrix showed up. And a black-and-white video depicting Martin in naked-yoga mode blurred the line between self-affirmation and self-aggrandizement.

For the most part, though, Martin presented his fresh ideological platform with the boyish charm he's brandished effectively throughout his quarter-century career. In his encore, he followed the comment about equality with his highest-wattage smile, then asked "Doesn't it make sense?"

It did.

-- Mikael Wood