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YOU NEED TO GO

If your summer ’13 was marked by an ongoing debate regarding the merits of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” allow us to direct your attention toward “Vivir Mi Vida,” the salsa anthem that appropriately became Marc Anthony’s biggest single since his turn-of-the-millennium crossover heyday. That sing-along chorus? Perfect for chanting in unison with 18,000 other Anthony fans. And those swelling horns? Ideal for Brooklyn’s newest arena. The only catch: If you go to this show, you’ll be forced to miss Enrique Iglesias’s return to Madison Square Garden, and the Spanish singer has been on a roll lately, scoring hits with everything from bachata to dubstep.

Sat., Feb. 15, 8 p.m., 2014

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Tales From Aventura Land

When a guy named Romeo points at your girl, who is sitting right next to you, and purrs, “He can’t be your man, ’cause I’m your man,” you can assume you’re in big trouble. “He can’t be your papi, ’cause I’m your papi,” this impossibly suave interloper adds, triggering the ever-more-histrionic screams of roughly 15,000 girls. Romeo is speaking these words into a microphone onstage at a sold-out Madison Square Garden, which only exacerbates the situation; he further demonstrates his amorousness by lightly humping his mic stand, cooing, “You can feel my smell, right, baby?” as though this is an entirely reasonable and alluring thing to say. He is convincing.

The poor sap whose lady friend has triggered this lascivious monologue is apparently displeased. “This dude looks like he wants to beat the shit out of me!” Romeo marvels. “It’s just a show!” He then switches to a torrent of Spanish—used to deliver 85 percent of his banter and 98 percent of his sung lyrics, which is somewhat problematic for me as a non-speaker, though a friendly gentleman whom I’ve recently befriended offers to translate the sentiment: “She’s thinking about me, but you’re gonna fuck her.” And then Romeo produces a handheld cardboard mask of his own face, to illustrate the erotic visual transference in which this poor sap’s girl will soon gladly engage. The shrieks of the aforementioned roughly 15,000 girls grow ever more histrionic, joined now by riotous peals of laughter, including my own.

Hello from Wednesday night’s Aventura show, the first of four three-hour MSG fetes in a two-week span, an astonishing victory lap (it certainly makes Lady Gaga’s Radio City run look feeble) for this Bronx quartet, whose swaggering, sensitive-tough-guy spin on the almost painfully romantic Dominican Republic tradition of bachata balladry is absurdly dominant: Their fifth studio album, The Last (fake retirement threats, ahoy), sits permanently atop Billboard’s Latin chart. Not “on” the chart. Atop.

This is the sort of show that eschews opening acts in lieu of politicians, along with an oversize $50,000 check donated to the Red Cross’s Haiti-relief effort. The enormous circular stage rotates lazily, slowly revealing a coterie of backup guitarists, percussionists, keyboardists, etc., and while the other three Aventura dudes—the brothers Max (bass, mercifully rare rapping) and Lenny (guitar) Santos, alongside unrelated cohort and occasional noogie recipient Henry Santos Jeter (vocal harmonies, general wan crowd-hyping)—are excellent hosts, it is Henry’s cousin, Anthony “Romeo” Santos, who induces hysteria when he first rises up through the floor, resplendent in a stylish trench coat, bathing in a cacophonic shrieking-female din for a motionless half-minute or so, before tossing his sunglasses into the teeming crowd and carefully depositing his gloves into a suitcase held open by a prim attendant, the band kicking into gear at the precise moment the attendant snaps the suitcase shut. Boom. Perfect.

The boys (in their late twenties, now) cycle through various wardrobe adjustments (nice vests) throughout the evening, and indulge in a few bombastic arena-rock visual tricks—cannons showering the crowd with red confetti hearts during the stormy, urgent “Mi Corazóncito,” etc. But far more engaging is Romeo’s loopy, voluminous approach to audience interaction. “Ladies, are you feeling sexy tonight? You don’t feel sexy? You’re sexy to me. [Grabs crotch, inhales sharply.] That’s what I’m talking about. You nasty.” Nor is he afraid to be service-y (“Females, if you’re drinking, no driving. Come to our room!”). Accommodating to a fault (“I hope your favorite song’s in this medley”), he is nonetheless unafraid to get real with us, Battle of the Sexes–wise. “I know why men cheat,” he announces. [Long pause.] “Because we love pussy.” Screams, adoration, mayhem.

For all the mesmerizing, lascivious revelry, the band has a delicate touch, Romeo’s voice a delicate falsetto, the music more often than not a sinewy, feather-light bed of nostalgic gallantry with only intermittent nods to ribald modernity, which only makes those jolts more effective. Blaring air horns, bursts of smoke, and a pulverizing reggaeton beat introduce the riotous “Noche de Sexo,” which even I don’t need translated, thanks. More typical is the monstrous “Obsesión,” breezy and lilting and classily retro but with a powerhouse chorus that hits with jet-engine force. Occasional guest stars—Ludacris and Akon on record, noted guitar hero Bernie Williams (!) tonight onstage, briefly shredding (!!) with a Yankee’s aplomb—need Aventura more than Aventura needs them, is the point.

One exception to that: None other than Marc Anthony rises up through the floor to tear viciously into Hector Lavoe’s “Aguanile,” inducing yet more mayhem. Now. The Aventura boys are handsome but not movie-star-devastating, somewhat fit but not absurdly ripped, charismatic but affable. Marc Anthony is not affable. In a severe black suit, wielding his booming voice like a scythe (ripping his own shades off and tossing them onstage during one particularly fraught high note), he stalks the stage like some sort of mesmerizing megawatt-celebrity panther, Romeo content to make some goofy faces and graciously allow his spotlight to be stolen. It’s a fantastic and almost unbearably intense moment; it would have been less disruptive and adrenalizing if Madison Square Garden’s roof had suddenly retracted and a space shuttle launched from center stage.

And then he is gone, and we are back in Romeo’s hands—quite literally, in the case of one young lady plucked from the crowd. (“He always gets a fat girl!” exclaims my new Spanish-speaking friend.) “This is about to get nasty,” the singer warns, and verily does it get briefly nasty, the two new lovebirds gyrating horizontally—one last burst of pure, lusty mayhem. Soon, though, to commemorate the song in question (“Un Beso”), they share a more chaste and romantic kiss. “Turn it around!” Romeo commands. “Turn it!” (Referring to the stage.) And soon, as a grand finale, a narrow platform lifts him up 15 feet or so, where he perches, in a spiffy lavender blazer, pulling back a bow with no arrow in it. At this point, the arrow is really unnecessary.

rharvilla@villagevoice.com

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El Cantante

Director Leon Ichaso, already responsible for mucking up a made-for-TV Jimi Hendrix biopic, is back at it with this turgid film about salsa star Hector Lavoe (Marc Anthony), which doesn’t so much go behind the music as beneath it. Focusing almost solely on Lavoe’s addictions (drugs and women, ho and hum), El Cantante is a garish, dispiriting bit of work—a mountain of biopic clichés snorted through the lens of a fidgety camera that never pauses long enough for us to get to like (or even know) the man responsible for making the Nuyorican sound a mainstream American commodity in the 1970s and early ’80s. Every so often, a character appears to tell us Lavoe’s sound “will change everything,” but nothing happens after that; it’s the same ol’ self-pity party as Lavoe—whose papa doesn’t approve of his move from Puerto Rico to America—blames everyone but himself for his woes, despite his seemingly instant fame. Worse, Anthony’s real-life wife, Jennifer Lopez, tries to make the film about her; miscast as Lavoe’s missus, Puchi, Lopez hides behind aging makeup that makes her look like Bebe Neuwirth.

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Austin and Brooklyn Songsters, Appreciated by the A-list

Halfway through the slinky, snaky “Tomboy Rock Star,” Marc Anthony Thompson— a/k/a Chocolate Genius—mutters under his cigarette-stoked breath, “And you keep calling room service ’cause you don’t wanna be alone.” It’s a killer line, delivered with wisecracking ease that tightropes between empathetic, flat-out funny and downright cruel. In short: classic Chocolate Genius. Since 1998’s Black Music, Thompson’s emotional, enigmatic songs, loaded with mordant wit, humanity, and smarts and liberally pin-pricked with chitlin-circuit showmanship and brooding alt-rock sturm und drang (imagine, if possible, the spawn of Arthur Lee, Solomon Burke, and Paul Westerberg), have been awarded a level of approval far exceeding his sales or name-recognition status. But he deserves to be heard by more than insiders or the hipster musicans (Marc Ribot, Oren Bloedow, Meshell Ndegeocello, Van Dyke Parks, Stuart Matthewman) collaborating on his third CD, Black Yankee Rock—which, bolstered by Craig Street’s nuanced but firm production, glides seamlessly between dreamy atmospherics and ’70s folk rock.

Just as underheard and overlooked (though a recent stint opening for Fiona Apple indicates that he, too, has an A-list appreciation society) is Austin’s David Garza. On his self-produced ad hoc best-of set The Thousand Roses, Ltd., culled from the four-CD retrospective A Strange Mess of Flowers, the singer-guitarist hops from Tex-Mex meets T. Rex strut (“I play in Spanish, I rock in ingles“) to guitar-stacked arena-rock dramatics to a rockabilly-bounced Stevie Ray Vaughn cover. The guy’s got a serious jones for muscular rhythms, but Garza’s tremulous vocals, ripe with references to Robert Plant and a less fragile Jeff Buckley, provide a grandiose glamour. Like his Brooklyn brethren CG, he’s not reinventing the wheel. But that doesn’t make his material any less compelling or bold.

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NY Mirror

As it gets colder outside, take refuge in the banana republic of Plantain, a festive bar/ restaurant/lounge perched in the middle of nowhere special. Because of its blah location in midtown, this lively space is a destination in itself—especially during happy hour, from 4 to 7, when a “nuevo tapas” menu is served along with house specialty cocktails like mojitos (rum, lime juice, and fresh mint, $8) that arrive dressed up with chunks of sugarcane, and way too sweet mango margaritas (tequila, mango liqueur, mango nectar, $7). Paired with the tasty cuban sandwich ($9)—a mini-treat of roast pork, cheese, and sliced pickles—whatever you drink will have you Havana bound in no time. The decor is equally intoxicating: vivid lanterns, paintings of women, candlelit tables, and high ceilings. A mixed crowd and Latin music courtesy of Marc Anthony and friends add even more sabor to an otherwise no-frills address. Who says there isn’t any place to go above 14th Street?


bars@villagevoice.com

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The Young, the Hot, and the Horny

News reports may have led you to believe that the Puerto Rican Day Parade is nothing but a circus of horny thugs. They’re not entirely wrong.

Amid the floats, processions of schoolkids in traditional costumes, and 50-odd versions of “La Bandera,” scores of young people were trying to get their mack on, especially near the Central Park entrance at 59th Street.

For all the guys that were ogling women—squeezing their asses or tapping them on the shoulders in more tepid attempts at making a play—there were just as many girls parading by trying to have guys sweat them. In the end, it’s a sport.

“Damn, son, shorty got some good back right dere!” a shirtless guy called out to a friend, rubbing a gold medallion in the shape of his zodiac sign and panting over a young girl with a bulbous rump to rival Jennifer Lopez‘s overhyped ass. One girl actually blew a whistle to slice her way through the wall of men in the park.

Scoopy—a slightly tubby guy carrying a little Poland Spring bottle filled with Goldschläger—kept dipping into the path of estrogen to take pictures with girls that caught his eye. “The real Puerto Ricans come to see the parade, but for most of the male gender, it’s the women!”

Scoopy wasn’t even a Boricua. “I’m Dominican. Dominican women are a little too stuck up for me. Puerto Rican women are a little more . . . loose.” Just then, a girl strolling by jiggled her butt for the camera. “Shake those rice and beans, mama!”

The bad press from two years ago combined with the queasiness surrounding any post-9-11 mass gathering made for a less-than-fabulous parade. No J. Lo, no Eve to move the festivities—although salsa sensations Brenda K. Starr, Marc Anthony, and Huey Dunbar gave float performances. “There’s not enough singers,” complained Tainary, a Dominican teenage girl from the Bronx.

“We’re still waiting for Marc Anthony. Where da fuck he at?!” said her pal Tiara. I asked if the guys bothered them. “We ignore all that, but I wish these guys would stop grabbing on me,” said Tainary. Big Pun‘s “Still Not a Player” rang out from a float, and everyone chanted the words line by line.

Even with the young folks on a late spring break, there were people there for the parade. “It’s important that we’re here on Fifth Avenue for all the world to see,” said José Perez. “For all of us to be here together, no matter what nationality.”

Jennifer from Brooklyn anxiously watched the floats with her girlfriends, sporting Puerto Rican flag bracelets in an outfit she said took two days to construct. She rolled her eyes at the mention of all the guys on the make behind her. “I just like everybody getting together.”


In the dance music industry, vocalists usually play second fiddle to the producers who mastermind the tracks. House singer Ultra Naté is one of the few exceptions to that rule. At Cobble Hill café/furniture store Halcyon last Wednesday, the up-front-and-personal chanteuse crooned “straight raw dogs”—new, unfinished tracks off the forthcoming Grime, Silt and Thunder—and renditions of old hits for an audience of mostly black gay men. The intimate concert was part of manager Bill Coleman‘s weekly Peace Biscuit Power Hour. (Keep an eye on this night—Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz of Tom Tom Club and Talking Heads spin a set next week, and N’Dea Davenport stops by in July.)

Naté left her label, Strictly Rhythm, a year ago to start her own imprint, Bluefire. “You got to do it yourself because the record label ain’t gonna do shee-it but get you real broke quick,” she informed her audience before launching into “Brass in Pocket,” a remake of the Pretenders song.

Four years ago, Ultra’s single “Free” became a ubiquitous dance hit, especially with gay men, and she was paraded as one of the grand divas of garage. Things got difficult when the singer tried to move away from that confining title, which all too often means a career of shrieking high notes at circuit parties. Her second album with Strictly received little promotion, and “Twisted,” a soft, wistful number in step with the soulful house wave, was largely ignored by the label. She released the single with Giant Step, the longtime purveyor of soul-inflected dance music, although Strictly limited the pressings. The record started producing lots of buzz, and it was clear that her bosses had passed on a hit. “That was the final stroke,” she laments. “I didn’t need another lesson in futility.” Now—pardon the pun—she’s free to do what she wants to do.


jgermosen@villagevoice.com

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Señoritas’ Choice

Marc Anthony is cool, bad—the kind of guy you hang out with. Enrique Iglesias comes off as intense—the type of guy you sleep with. And Ricky Martin, well, he’s just too good to be true; there’s no chance of getting with him. Those are the keen observations of one of the five single female friends I recently invited over to listen to a few CDs and help discern that catchall phrase for all three of the above: Latin heartthrob. And since we agreed that Martin was basically off-limits, it came down to the other two crooners to prove themselves to these señoritas.

Over in this corner, striking a pensive pose on the cover of his self-titled English-language debut, is 24-year-old, Madrid-born, Miami-raised Enrique Iglesias, gazing yonder with lip-balmed mouth agape, his head slightly down, a heather-gray shirt hugging those chiseled pecs. Maybe he’s remembering. Perhaps he’s just trying to forget.

That’s the effect Iglesias seems to be going for. The album is drenched with infatuation- or hurt-inspired emotion. The kind that still gives the singer butterflies. Iglesias delivers one romantic ballad after another with whispery, yearning vocals à la Chris Isaak. Gentle, sultry, easy on the ears. His lovesick swoons don’t take no for an answer. Some of the words—of which Iglesias helped pen at least half—border on cheese.

Seamlessly produced, overflowing with catchy riffs and danceable beats, Enrique Iglesias has the same glossy appeal as his three previous Spanish albums, with the addition of a Whitney Houston duet and a decent cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Sad Eyes.” Almost every track kicks off with a Spanish guitar—probably the producers’ idea of what makes music Latin-tinged.

He opens with his “We Are the World”-style new single, “Rhythm Divine,” the kind of anthem that’s supposed to unite nations at the Olympics—”from the coast of Ipanema to the island of Capri.” Then he gives us “Be With You,” which sounds like a discarded draft of Cher’s “Believe.” Eventually he turns up the momentum with his hip-writhing crossover hit, “Bailamos,” in which he promises, in his breathiest voice, “Tonight we dance.”

Only Latin men can get away with that kind of talk without sounding corny, my lady friends concur. Iglesias’s sexuality oozes out of every number. As the son of Casanova crooner Julio—who my mom used to get jiggy with when our furniture was still covered in plastic—Enrique makes hearts flutter. When he’s onstage, the less aged Iglesias isn’t reminiscing about the girls he loved before, but he’s still serenading all the squealing females, fantasizing about that special one he wants to give his all to.

In concert he’s intimate and vulnerable—you almost feel like rescuing him from love’s ailments. He projects that just-rolled-out-of-bed look, performing in T-shirt and jeans and sporting five o’clock shadow: very different from his loafer-wearing daddy. He’s a brooding poet searching for his muse, a boy standing in front of a bunch of girls, asking to be loved. He gives you that warped 13-year-old-girl feeling that you and he are really going to get together. Really.

He’ll invite up a screeching braces-wearing fan; she’ll embrace his lean body, holding on for dear life, crying and singing along. He bends down, holds her chin, and looks into her eyes with utter tenderness. And then, just when her life couldn’t get any better, just when she’s about to faint, he looks at her with naive sensuality and places a kiss on her lips.

Marc Anthony doesn’t quite work it the way Iglesias does, but much of that may have to do with age. Anthony has wives throwing underwear at him during concerts. Born to Puerto Rican parents in New York 31 years ago, the salsero sounds mature and classy on his current self-titled English CD—so hopelessly romantic he’s almost unfashionable. He earnestly sings of lost love, nostalgia, what could’ve been. How could you not like a guy who feels so passionate about women, and doesn’t hesitate to say so?

The first time I saw Anthony perform, in ’92—he hadn’t sold out Madison Square Garden yet—he was giving a free outdoor show in a San Juan shopping area to promote his first salsa CD. Not much of a stage presence back then; he had long curly hair smoothed down with gel or oil or mousse, and a lanky figure to boot. But as soon as the former Menudo vocal coach opened his mouth and let out the silkiest of notes, he started looking fine.

He was the one who got me listening to a more contemporary version of the kind of salsa records my parents had played at the after-parties of my birthdays when I was a kid. On his three Spanish-language collections, this generation’s biggest salsa star fused Latin beats and modern disco, showcasing a voice that built then finally exploded into exultant crescendos.

His new CD is more keyboarded, drum-programmed, and power-ballad-heavy, reminiscent of music from ’80s movies like Top Gun and An Officer and a Gentleman. He cowrote eight of the songs, and his vocal cords carry all of them. “You Sang to Me” and “That’s Okay” show off his range the best. And “My Baby You,” which Anthony wrote for his daughter, Ariana, sounds so grand it could be part of a Broadway musical—hopefully one with a better fate than The Capeman, in which he played the lead. He belts his stories with such ardor, you never doubt something really important is at stake.

Still, halfway through the album, you feel like shaking Marc out of his melancholy funk and asking him to speed things up. Which he finally does, in his top-three pop smash, “I Need to Know,” an in-your-face number that took me a while to warm up to. By album’s end, the sonero is delivering a treat for longtime fans who miss the kind of tunes that got us listening to him in the first place: “Da la Vuelta,” a beautiful little letting-go number written by big shot Emilio Estefan Jr. and Colombian wordsmith Kike Santander. Too bad finicky Anglo fans couldn’t have been introduced to Anthony and Iglesias (and Ricky Martin) in Spanish. They would’ve figured out what 30 million Latinos in the United States have known all along: We rock.


ENRIQUE IGLESIAS plays Z-100’s Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden December 16.

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Señoritas’ Choice

Marc Anthony is cool, bad—the kind of guy you hang out with. Enrique Iglesias comes off as intense—the type of guy you sleep with. And Ricky Martin, well, he’s just too good to be true; there’s no chance of getting with him. Those are the keen observations of one of the five single female friends I recently invited over to listen to a few CDs and help discern that catchall phrase for all three of the above: Latin heartthrob. And since we agreed that Martin was basically off-limits, it came down to the other two crooners to prove themselves to these señoritas.

Over in this corner, striking a pensive pose on the cover of his self-titled English-language debut, is 24-year-old, Madrid-born, Miami-raised Enrique Iglesias, gazing yonder with lip-balmed mouth agape, his head slightly down, a heather-gray shirt hugging those chiseled pecs. Maybe he’s remembering. Perhaps he’s just trying to forget.

That’s the effect Iglesias seems to be going for. The album is drenched with infatuation- or hurt-inspired emotion. The kind that still gives the singer butterflies. Iglesias delivers one romantic ballad after another with whispery, yearning vocals à la Chris Isaak. Gentle, sultry, easy on the ears. His lovesick swoons don’t take no for an answer. Some of the words—of which Iglesias helped pen at least half—border on cheese.

Seamlessly produced, overflowing with catchy riffs and danceable beats, Enrique Iglesias has the same glossy appeal as his three previous Spanish albums, with the addition of a Whitney Houston duet and a decent cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Sad Eyes.” Almost every track kicks off with a Spanish guitar—probably the producers’ idea of what makes music Latin-tinged.

He opens with his “We Are the World”-style new single, “Rhythm Divine,” the kind of anthem that’s supposed to unite nations at the Olympics—”from the coast of Ipanema to the island of Capri.” Then he gives us “Be With You,” which sounds like a discarded draft of Cher’s “Believe.” Eventually he turns up the momentum with his hip-writhing crossover hit, “Bailamos,” in which he promises, in his breathiest voice, “Tonight we dance.”

Only Latin men can get away with that kind of talk without sounding corny, my lady friends concur. Iglesias’s sexuality oozes out of every number. As the son of Casanova crooner Julio—who my mom used to get jiggy with when our furniture was still covered in plastic—Enrique makes hearts flutter. When he’s onstage, the less aged Iglesias isn’t reminiscing about the girls he loved before, but he’s still serenading all the squealing females, fantasizing about that special one he wants to give his all to.

In concert he’s intimate and vulnerable—you almost feel like rescuing him from love’s ailments. He projects that just-rolled-out-of-bed look, performing in T-shirt and jeans and sporting five o’clock shadow: very different from his loafer-wearing daddy. He’s a brooding poet searching for his muse, a boy standing in front of a bunch of girls, asking to be loved. He gives you that warped 13-year-old-girl feeling that you and he are really going to get together. Really.

He’ll invite up a screeching braces-wearing fan; she’ll embrace his lean body, holding on for dear life, crying and singing along. He bends down, holds her chin, and looks into her eyes with utter tenderness. And then, just when her life couldn’t get any better, just when she’s about to faint, he looks at her with naive sensuality and places a kiss on her lips.

Marc Anthony doesn’t quite work it the way Iglesias does, but much of that may have to do with age. Anthony has wives throwing underwear at him during concerts. Born to Puerto Rican parents in New York 31 years ago, the salsero sounds mature and classy on his current self-titled English CD—so hopelessly romantic he’s almost unfashionable. He earnestly sings of lost love, nostalgia, what could’ve been. How could you not like a guy who feels so passionate about women, and doesn’t hesitate to say so?

The first time I saw Anthony perform, in ’92—he hadn’t sold out Madison Square Garden yet—he was giving a free outdoor show in a San Juan shopping area to promote his first salsa CD. Not much of a stage presence back then; he had long curly hair smoothed down with gel or oil or mousse, and a lanky figure to boot. But as soon as the former Menudo vocal coach opened his mouth and let out the silkiest of notes, he started looking fine.

He was the one who got me listening to a more contemporary version of the kind of salsa records my parents had played at the after-parties of my birthdays when I was a kid. On his three Spanish-language collections, this generation’s biggest salsa star fused Latin beats and modern disco, showcasing a voice that built then finally exploded into exultant crescendos.

His new CD is more keyboarded, drum-programmed, and power-ballad-heavy, remini- scent of music from ’80s movies like Top Gun and An Officer and a Gentleman. He cowrote eight of the songs, and his vocal cords carry all of them. “You Sang to Me” and “That’s Okay” show off his range the best. And “My Baby You,” which Anthony wrote for his daughter, Ariana, sounds so grand it could be part of a Broadway musical—hopefully one with a better fate than The Capeman, in which he played the lead. He belts his stories with such ardor, you never doubt something really important is at stake.

Still, halfway through the album, you feel like shaking Marc out of his melancholy funk and asking him to speed things up. Which he finally does, in his top-three pop smash, “I Need to Know,” an in-your-face number that took me a while to warm up to. By album’s end, the sonero is delivering a treat for longtime fans who miss the kind of tunes that got us listening to him in the first place: “Da la Vuelta,” a beautiful little letting-go number written by big shot Emilio Estefan Jr. and Colombian wordsmith Kike Santander. Too bad finicky Anglo fans couldn’t have been introduced to Anthony and Iglesias (and Ricky Martin) in Spanish. They would’ve figured out what 30 million Latinos in the United States have known all along: We rock.


Enrique Iglesias plays Z-100’s Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden December 16.

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NY Mirror

Creep of the Week goes to gonzo bozo Matt Drudge, who owed me one after his cable TV show dicked me around with endlessly postponed and/or nonexistent bookings, even after I’d been pegged a “regular” and put through an unpaid “dress rehearsal.” Well, perhaps to make up for the screwups, Drudge—according to his handler—was going to agree to host a birthday dinner for me, and he’d even talked to Lucianne Goldberg about cohosting, if not agenting, the event. A few days later, though, the newsy twosome had decided not to do the gig after all, and once again I’d been subjected to a rudely canceled Drudge booking. And why? Because the Voice had just come out with a cover cartoon which–in only one panel, mind you–depicted Drudge as an ill-informed airhead, and this infuriated the guy so much that he was going to hold it against my innocent, pink ass.


So the free speech advocate who has single-handedly almost brought down the president is in reality a thin-skinned monument to keeping the press locked up in chains of politeness! The guy who runs through the streets screaming “The dress has stains on it!” and “She smoked a cigar with her pussy!” is actually a beacon of pride and sensitivity who believes in punishing the entire staff of an outlet for one frisky opinion! Gee, thanks, Matt–I’ve finally gotten fucked by somebody twice.


Creepo number two (but on a somewhat smaller scale) is Woody Allen, whose Celebrity— the New York Film Festival’s opening-night attraction–turned out to be a fairly leaden jumble in which Woody dumps truckloads of women, who are invariably suicidal over his rejection. He should work as a booker for the Fox News Channel. On the rebound, Woody swats off babes left and right, as Melanie Griffith, Charlize Theron, Winona Ryder, and other world-class lookers throw themselves on his scrawny crotch like schnauzers in heat. That Woody–or an uncanny facsimile of him–is actually played by Kenneth Branagh doesn’t make this bowl of narcissism go down any easier; in fact, the Woodman’s managed to find the one actor who hot babes would probably pant for less.


Instead of plugging in a younger proxy for himself, couldn’t Woody (who’s brought me so much joy in the past) have just reconceived his ratty persona already? His perception of women as high-strung neurotics who need to have sex with a shlub, any shlub, was out of date when pterodactyls ruled the earth, and the attacks on indiscriminate star worship aren’t exactly new potatoes either. He was probably lucky he wasn’t able to be at the festival to greet the underwhelmed response–he was busy filming his next opus in a railroad yard–and so was Gretchen Mol, who was also at the yard; after all that hype, her Celebrity role amounts to her being beaten, then banged by Leonardo DiCaprio in a four-way to which Branagh, natch, is invited. (Of course, Mol’s more visible in Rounders,but that movie failed to make poker into the next Macarena, and John Malkovich chewed so much scenery that it’s a wonder there were any card tables left.) All the gossip media cared about, though, was that Leonardo showed up to promote his performance as a reckless, destructive movie star–in the movie, that is–and so the evening quickly became more about celebrity than Celebrity.


Hot for some real star power, I yelled, “Gang way, world, get off of my runway” and raced to the railroad yard–well, actually the limo depot–where I was whooshed all the way to the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, to see this year’s Gypsy. It was well worth the nosebleed. No, the production isn’t daringly revisionist–they didn’t set it on Mars or at Studio 54–and a lot of times it seems to slavishly echo past versions. But that’s just fine, since this is one show that, by law, should be recreated intact every single day of the year. (It’s a frothy vaudeville revue and a demented character study.) The evening is hugely enjoyable, and the commanding Betty Buckley injects raw, searing life into Mama Rose, the kind that gives you Mother Goosebumps. Mama’s gotta let go, but brave Betty should be allowed to hang on to this role forever.


Gypsy inevitably popped up again at the all-star Carnegie Hall concert called My Favorite Broadway–The Leading Ladies, when Liza Minnelli said that as a kid she’d planned to be a professional ice skater until she saw Gypsy with Ethel Merman and tossed her skates to the wind. (She’ll be sorry if they ever do Gypsy on Ice.) That anecdote launched Liza into a version of “Some People” that, unfortunately, some people like her were not quite strong enough to tackle. The poor thing sounded winded and scratchy and came off like Gloria Swanson doing an impression of a drag queen doing an impression of Liza–though you had to admire her spunky survival sense and dramatic arm gestures the likes of which I haven’t seen since the last time I got fisted.


The event– taped for PBS– was often like an extended lounge act, but when it clicked (like on a Three Sopranos mix of Audra McDonald, Marin Mazzie, and Judy Kuhn), it dazzlingly put the broad back in Broadway. Agreeably enough, the evening was aimed at real Broadway queens; the divas weren’t even announced, and you had to know that that was the second lead from Steel Pier or the original stars of the musical version of Some Like It Hot up there (and honey, I did). Jennifer Holliday, Dorothy Loudon, and Linda Eder (who did a bizarrely fabulous “I Am I, Don Quixote”) were among the audience favorites, and it was heartening to see that a grown-up Andrea McArdle didn’t have to amend her Annie lyric to “I just stick out my chins.” For me, though, the highlight was cute, little Anna Kendrick singing “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” backed by the Cabaret girls, who scratched their butts and spread their legs as Anna retained her dignity, for the most part.


Host Julie Andrews kept changing costumes and floating around saying, “What a lovely evening this is!” But the real diva turned out to be the sponsor, Continental Airlines, which–according to picketers outside–pays half of its pilots less than $15,000 a year and gives none of them pension benefits. Some people!


The Capeman was somehow omitted from the night’s illustrious lineup, and that show’s Marc Anthony mysteriously didn’t mention it at his Madison Square Garden concert last week either, but it still provides a subtext of crossover dreams gone awry whenever Anthony performs, or even shows up. The singing sensation will hopefully survive his next bid at mainstream celebrity–a record company push toward Top 40–but I’m glad to hear that he plans to keep one foot planted in la musica Latina, I guess in case the other one ends up planted in sludge.


In concert, Anthony proved to be a charismatic, powerful entertainer with perfect pitch and a very cute sense of showmanship. In between rendering love songs to his mother, he did some mock-fey dance moves, talked in funny voices, and put a rose in his mouth, then launched into a salsa version of “I Will Survive.” Girlfriend! A highlight had surprise guest star Jennifer Lopez prancing around and making “I’m not worthy” gestures in Anthony’s direction. I struck the same pose for a while, but since the woman next to me–one “Luba from Cuba”–kept drunkenly slapping me and insisting I stand up and dance, I feel Anthony sort of owes me one. Maybe he’ll host my birthday party?


Michael Musto can be e-mailed at musto@villagevoice.com.

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

‘Mega’ Mania

It’s drive time on an impossibly muggy afternoon in Midtown, but far removed from the gridlock, in a townhouse on West 56th Street, La Mega (WSKQ-FM), New York’s Latin radio giant, is cruising like a fine-tuned salsa-merengue machine. His voice booming out a commercial for TOPS, an appliance outlet, Paco–a/k/a Manuel Navarro, the ageless DJ who invented the disco radio format that sent WKTU to the top 20 years ago–is about to segue into Marc Anthony’s latest salsa smash, “Contra La Corriente.” But first, he has to flirt with the traffic reporter, Carolina Skywalker.

“Wow, que tienes puesto hoy, muchacha?” he bellows, asking her to describe what she’s wearing. She gleefully offers a Spanglish description of her tight red lycra bodysuit, then launches into a warning to stay away from the Lincoln Tunnel. “Let me ask you something,” Paco says in Spanish. “What does it mean to you to be bilingual?” “Well,” she chuckles, “it means I speak English, y tambien hablo español.” “Claro!” shouts Paco. “But what does it mean when your boyfriend says you’re bilingual?” Carolina squeals with laughter, the listening audience makes the connection between tongues and sex, and Paco pushes a button that plays a Spanish-language commercial hawking home delivery of The New York Times.

A little bit of English, a lot of Spanish, an unapologetically macho sense of sexual politics, and a relentless barrage of hyperkinetic salsa and merengue have catapulted La Mega into a tie with LITE-FM (WLTW-FM) at a 5.9 share for the No. 1 radio station in the New York area, according to the spring Arbitron report. An El Diario editorial proclaimed that La Mega’s victory “symbolizes not only the growth of the Latino media market, but the coming of age of the entire Latino community in the Big Apple.” With about 18 percent of the metro area’s population–a 77 percent increase since 1980–the Latino community has been a marketing boom waiting to happen. “This has been coming for years,” said Arbitron researcher Robert Patchen. “There’s nothing surprising about it.”

One of the reasons American media outlets have been slow to galvanize this massive listenership is the community’s own demographic diversity. “The Hispanic community is not a single entity,” said Patchen. “There are lots of nationalities and lots of degrees of assimilation.” That is why in the last few years Arbitron has been putting out a Hispanic Language Preference Report, which shows that the community is becoming increasingly bilingual. While it has long been assumed that the way to reach Latinos is in Spanish, last winter’s Arbitron report shows that only 56 percent of New York Latinos prefer Spanish over English.

La Mega is owned by Miami-based, Cuban-born media mogul Raul Alarcon Jr., whose 11 U.S. outlets constitute one of the few privately held station groups left in America. Since it went to a salsa-merengue format about five years ago, La Mega has been refining its approach to its target audience. Recognizing the dominance of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans over Mexicans and South Americans in New York, it has completely eliminated ballad-oriented Spanish soft-pop from its mix, exiling it to its recent acquisition WPAT-FM, also known as Amor. Reaffirming the primacy of the salsa-merengue format, a second station, Caliente (WCAA 105.9), owned by Heftel Communications, joined the fray in June.

Although broadcasts are predominantly in Spanish, about 15 percent of La Mega’s commercials are in English, and when Paco engages in “code-switching,” freely moving between two languages with station foils like Carolina and Boca Chula, he is in touch with New York’s Latino mainstream. Paco, who is the first DJ to be on the No. 1 station in the New York market in two different languages, is the ultimate symbol of reverse assimilation, a term now adopted by marketing wonks. “In the last five years our younger listeners have discovered that the music is hip to them, not only to their folks,” said Paco.

La Mega’s younger listeners have also made “El Vacilón de la Mañana”–with off-color comedians Luis Jimenez and Epi Colón–second only to Howard Stern’s morning show, and the fans who pack 30-year veteran Mega DJ Polito Vega’s live shows at the Latin Quarter, Copacabana, and Orchard Beach are predominantly in their twenties. Gregory Rodriguez, a fellow at the Pepperdine Institute for Public Policy who coined the term “reverse assimilation,” insists that “despite the popularity of Spanish-language music and media, our power and articulation is going to come in English. The fastest-growing sector of the Latino market is native-born, and virtually all native-born Latinos speak English.”

Last August, La Mega became La Nueva Mega, a gimmicky move that brought in an even tighter playlist and increased contest giveaways. But the main reason for La Mega’s success is a major shift in Latin music trends that had divided New York Latinos in the last decade. After an initial rivalry, salsa (a Puerto Rican thing) and merengue (a Dominican thing) listenership have merged into one massive salsa-rengue fan base. Even more important, the salsa genre has become transformed by the emergence of three Nuyorican acts, Marc Anthony, La India, and Tito Nieves. Since the late ’80s, the bland, sugary salsa romantica had held sway. But Anthony and La India, who had been recording house and techno songs, used their soulful r&b influences to reenergize salsa music with a new jack attitude. The New York­based Dominican salsa singer Raulin Rosendo’s recent No. 1 hit, “Llego la Ley,” a song that makes palpable the undocumented immigrant paranoia of the INS, echoes the urban politics of ’70s salsa classic Siembra, by Willie Colón and Ruben Blades.

But although La Mega’s ratings have grown steadily, parent company Spanish Broadcasting System’s vice president Carey Davis is still facing an uphill battle with advertisers. “We’re first in ratings, but we’re just cracking the top 10 in revenue, and that’s too big a gap,” said Davis. “If we were a white radio station, we would be billing $10 million more a year than we are now.” Last May, Amcast, a division of the broadcast ad reps Katz Radio Group, warned companies in an internal memo against buying too many ads on black and Latino radio stations because “advertisers should want prospects, not suspects.” Davis also claims that many businesses have what he calls a “no-Hispanic dictate.”

“We go to companies and say, You’re looking for ways to increase your marketing share, you’ve never talked to the 4 million Hispanics who live here,” said Davis. “It’s a marketer’s dream come true, because it’s an emerging middle class that needs everything: cars, washers, dryers, real estate, homes, all that American-dream stuff. We had only one bank advertising with us a year and a half ago, Banco Popular, and now we have seven, and last week we signed a first-time deal with Macy’s.”

La Mega may have hit a nerve among contemporary urban Latinos, but it uses some of the cheesy ’50s style of American media that can grate on the ’90s listener. The horny hetero Latino imperative equates vive la différence with sexual inequality. Women are usually cheerfully vacant sex objects, and men whose girlfriends are either fat or cheating on them are constant targets. As the official Spanish-language spokesman for Potamkin Motors, even groovy Paco is transformed into a used-car huckster. And seemingly every group who gets its music played on the station incorporates a La Mega jingle into the intro of its songs.

But La Mega has become a significant source of pride and comfort to the Latino community, giving it what it desperately wants: that old-time “family” feeling. Witness the crowds that turn out for Polito Vega’s eight-hour oldies show, broadcast every Sunday from Orchard Beach. State-of-the-art marketing concepts aside, La Mega is one long-winded, in-your-face, end-of-the-millennium call to a community to dance dance dance. “We spend more money on dancing than going to the movies,” said Paco. “We love to dance, because it’s our culture, because it’s sensual, sexual, and because it makes us feel like we are enjoying a moment of connection to our ancestors.”