"El Puma" and the Gipsy Kings? Together ? You better believe it.
As part of the World Cup Week, Venezuelan romantic singer-actor Jose Luis Rodriguez--nicknamed the Puma after an early-'70s soap opera in which he starred--came through impressively in what at first appeared to be a severe mismatch on Friday at the Hollywood Bowl.
Preceding the relatively challenging music of the Gipsy Kings, Rodriguez's conservative pop music might have been expected to seem even more lightweight than usual.
But the singer was smart enough to activate the party mode for most of the night, leaving the innocuous balladry for another occasion. Backed by his solid eight-piece band, he effectively got into the spirit of the World Cup celebration.
He also concentrated on singing, rather than exploiting his sex-symbol image. Rodriguez's main assets are still his voice and stage presence, and an above-average repertoire that mixes well-crafted ballads and an assortment of merengues, salsas and other Afro-Caribbean rhythms that add some color to an essentially unoriginal style.
Rodriguez--who still stops traffic everywhere he goes in Latin America--did use his 90-minute set to present a few songs from his new album, "Razones para una sonrisa" ("Reasons for a Smile"). The new lyrics, though, were as dull and obvious as his old stuff. He belongs to the legion of performers who opt for the shortest route--a kiss, a girl, a smile and some dancing--as the best antidote to all problems.
Rodriguez songs might not be Latin America's poetic pride, but give the guy some credit--even if headliners the Gipsy Kings (who were reviewed here recently) had called in sick, the crowd at the Bowl appeared to have sweated enough with El Puma.
And the special ingredient of the World Cup added some spice to an unusual night--its spirit was felt both offstage (Brazilian and Italian fans in the crowd engaged in some good-natured competitive cheering and flag-waving) and on (Rodriguez's conversation between songs touched on soccer as much as his new album).
To share the bill with the far more respected Gipsy Kings and the night with Julio Iglesias (who was performing at the Greek Theatre) was a real test for Rodriguez's credibility, and he responded to the challenge, attracting his own large audience and hushing those who expected the worst.
For once, there was more dancing than talking at the Bowl.