Romeo Santos wasted no opportunity in his concert at Staples Center to present himself as a king.
There was his dramatic entrance, for which he donned a floor-length cape emblazoned with his initials. There was the microphone stand that had an enormous crown at its base. And there was, of course, the glittering chalice with which he toasted the loyalty of an audience that’s helped turn Santos into one of the biggest acts in Latin pop.
“I’m sorry – I’m spoiled,” he admitted at one point Thursday, a pretend-apology after he'd demanded that the crowd sing along louder.
You couldn't blame him for his lordly expectations. As the dreamy-eyed frontman of New York’s Aventura, Santos went from playing clubs in the Bronx to filling arenas worldwide by juicing bachata, the sinuous Dominican ballad style, with the sensuality and star quality of modern R&B.
In 2011, the singer released his first solo album, “Formula Vol. 1,” then followed it this year with “Vol. 2”; both topped Billboard’s Latin chart – as did an interstitial live disc called “The King Stays King” -- and in July he’ll finish his current U.S. tour with two shows at Yankee Stadium. (He was scheduled to perform again Saturday at Staples Center but was forced to postpone that date when the Kings, who play at the venue, advanced to the NHL playoffs.)
Yet if Santos had complete control over this sold-out, nearly three-hour concert, he wore his authority lightly, ruling not with an iron fist but an assured caress.
Built on the uncluttered interplay of voice, percussion and guitar, bachata uses a delicate tone to emphasize themes of romance and heartbreak. And Santos, singing mostly in Spanish, clung to the form’s essential tenderness here, even as his muscular 13-piece band scaled the precise grooves to arena dimensions.
In “Hilito,” he apologized in his high, borderline-androgynous voice for taking a lover for granted, while the fluttering “Amigo” was addressed to a friend whose wife the singer saw with another man.
A rendition of Aventura’s hit “Un Beso” occasioned a reliable set piece in which Santos brought a woman onstage and serenaded her; the song ended with a kiss on the lips. Later, he raised the temperature for the tango-inflected “Propuesta Indecente,” shimmying beneath the covers of a bed with another fan. The bit was naughty but respectful, with Santos in the role of erotic supplicant rather than bedroom conqueror.
He maintained that stance in “Promise,” pledging his heart to a woman with the proviso that she treat him gingerly.
On “Formula Vol. 1” that tune appears as a duet with Usher, one of several collaborations Santos has done lately with English-language pop stars. Here, though, Santos declined to bring out any of his singing partners -- another sign of the kingly confidence he was exuding all on his own.
Thursday’s show did feature an unannounced guest in the actor Vin Diesel, who sent the crowd into a tizzy with the news that Santos had joined the cast of “Fast & Furious 7,” due out next year.
The gig had an additional corporate tie-in, too, though this one landed less happily than Diesel’s announcement. After a thrilling run through “Eres Mía,” about how a woman will always love the singer even if she marries someone else, Santos wondered if his fans had seen his new soda commercial.
“Ladies, do you love me?” he asked. “Then you need to drink Dr. Pepper.” And with that he took a swig from a carefully positioned can. As crude as it was corny, the gesture felt like an abuse of the soft power he’d worked so sensitively to establish.