It may have been four years from the time he last visited Chicago (and at least twice as long since scoring a major hit on American soil), but lest anyone forget, Ricky Martin remains one of today’s top Latin pop stars. The singer/songwriter/all around entertainer is nearing the 85 million career album sales mark with his newest album “A Quien Quiera Escuchar” (“To Those Who Want to Listen”) adding to a tally of six Billboard chart-toppers.
Although the swooning “Vuelve” pre-dated all of the above, it seemed to hold a special place in the hearts of longtime fans, who sang the chorus so loud and proud it revealed a loyalty that began well before Martin’s crossover boom and is likely to last a lot longer.
Though the Allstate Arena had some noticeable seating holes, the photogenic 43-year-old heartthrob brought all the bells and whistles that often help sell out equally sized venues and even stadiums elsewhere. As he descended from the ceiling and landed on the v-shaped stage to the futuristic funk beats of “Mr. Put It Down,” it was apparent this guy was born to entertain and he hasn’t lost a shred of enthusiasm dating all the way back to the Menudo days.
Accompanied by a scorching six piece band, background singer and a flexible herd of dancers, Martin exuded charisma and a bilingual balance as he bounced between the past and present throughout nearly two hours. Beyond his solo catalogue, opener Wisin (of Wisin & Yandel fame) returned near the beginning for “Adrenalina” (the pair’s famed collaboration with an absent Jennifer Lopez), adding ample reggaeton flavorings to the already spicy pulsations.
Surprisingly, some of Martin’s most famous selections in the States also materialized pretty early in the set, with “Shake Your Bon-Bon” sharing a more modern sounding mash-up with “Drop It On Me” and “She Bangs” simmering with a sensual groove rather than its usual rump-shaking arrangement. “Livin’ la Vida Loca” emerged with its standard arrangement as Martin danced in and atop a classic car, while the internationally-themed anthem “The Cup Of Life” kept its rightful place as the joyful finale.
The headliner also hit some strides toward the second half, appearing extra passionate about dusting off the rarely performed ballad “Private Emotion” and the new rhythmically explosive “Adios.” Although the swooning “Vuelve” pre-dated all of the above, it seemed to hold a special place in the hearts of longtime fans, who sang the chorus so loud and proud it revealed a loyalty that began well before Martin’s crossover boom and is likely to last a lot longer.