It was Sunday night at the Compaq Center, and in a rising violet mist the thrilling voice of Jessica Simpson filled the room as she warmed up the audience that had the hottest tickets in town. The roar of the crowd was the equal of any Rockets playoff game. Fans full of anticipation twirled a sea of electric blue light rods. The screams became deafening as a video lit up the three huge, on-stage screens with images of Ricky rising from bed to wash his face and ride his silver-gray Mustang convertible up the side of a skyscraper. And then, just as suddenly, there HE was! Rising in a cloud of smoke, atop the wreck of the same Mustang, Martin wasted no time giving the fans what they came to hear: his top hit, “La Vida Loca.” Rising with him, from the elaborate stage, were his very talented musicians, and numerous talented and trim backup dancer/singers who had clearly discovered the secret for how to burn up those cheeseburger- with-fries calories. They would be in constant motion throughout the evening. The number has all the earmarks of a grand finale, and one wonders “Where do we go from here?” The combined volume of audio and audience was as close to an earthquake as I ever care to come, and the Compaq Center literally trembled under foot.
Ricky speaks of “Uniting the Americas” with his music as he glides across the stage on electric ramps. He rises and falls at will on mechanical poles and platforms which even take him up to flirt with his own image on the video screens. My friend is still trying to believe her good fortune as we arrived to discover our reserved seats were numbers A-1 and A-2 in the first row at the stage. In a room full of adoring gals of all ages, she is not alone as she beams with excitement at the sight of this favorite star. The crescendo of pandemonium is the wildest I have ever experienced. If this had been a convention of the Hearing-Impaired, many people would probably have been able to hear for the first time.
In a gentler mode, with a return to soft violet lights, Martin performed a pleasing “Vuelve.” He describes it as “…a song about realities of life…ups and downs, resentments, denial and wrong decisions.” It is tender Spanish ballad, and one need not speak the language to feel the passion. This was one of several moments in the show when I wished Mr. Martin would dare to sing without the endless over-amplification. He projects a great deal of heart in performance, but seems to not yet have the confidence to go it alone when singing. Hopefully that day will come.
Next, with “Spanish Eyes,” Martin displays his gifts for dance and movement, while his winning and boyish smile keeps the ladies in a frenzy. Video sequences lead the band into the kind of Latin beats I remember from New York City’s popular radio program, “The Dick Ricardo Sugar Show,” some thirty years ago. I think of Puerto Rican friends and colleagues from my days in Brooklyn, and I know many would sell their souls to be here in seats A-1 and 2.
Now we are transported to a Latin club of forties vintage and see Martin, in black suit and Fedora, looking like a Spanish Bogart. One cannot overlook the fun he is having in his work. The smile never leaves him, and he jauntily cocks his hat, glides off on a ramp, and reminds one of Brando in “Guys and Dolls.”
Just moments later, Martin reappears on an elevated scaffold-balcony to sing “Private Emotion” in a scene reminiscent of “Romeo and Juliet.” This was followed by his self-described conversation with God in “I Am Made of You.” Martin spoke poignantly of his prayerful daily search for peace outside the “adrenaline” of the concert circuit. Again, during this number, I wished it were possible to hear the powerful honesty of this voice without the mob hysteria. He rises heavenward on a flying saucer-like platform, and disappears in the ceiling. When he descends, now in fresh, brown leather pants, he is joined by the exuberant dancers for a “Shake Your Bon-Bon” that generates a crowd reaction equal to that of the “Ben-Hur” chariot race. A smiling stage security guard asks me “Can you believe this?” I cannot!
The tireless Ricky continues with an impressive turn on the bongos and then skillfully choreographs the entire audience in the art of “Shake Your Bon-Bon.” He rises out of sight on an electric pole, and then reemerges from the stage floor on a champagne velour sofa for a tender highlight of the show, “She’s All I Ever Had.” It was rich and embracing, and would have made a perfect ending as the star did an amazing slow turn to the entire audience and then disappeared on his rolling walkway like some hero of Greek mythology. I was so sure the concert was over that I put away my pad and pen. But the bongos announced yet another encore for the energetic Martin! I remembered how television’s famed Ed Sullivan would announce a “…really big show!”
Well Ed, to paraphrase the immortal Al Jolson, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”