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Crespo Turns Merengue Show Into Euphoric Dance Party

Merengue isn’t the most exciting genre of Latin music, but the Dominican style has found a dazzling practitioner in Elvis Crespo. Sunday at the Universal Amphitheatre, the Puerto Rican singer celebrated last week’s Grammy victory with a highly energetic concert marked by his charismatic personality and euphoric interaction with his fans.

Crespo has given merengue a distinct pop sensibility in a number of slick hits (“Suavemente,” “Pintame”) that sound remarkably similar to each other. What the singer lacks in diversity, though, he makes up for with his willingness to turn his shows into a relentless communal party.

On Sunday the crowd went wild over Crespo’s antics, which included some questionable gay-baiting in his successful efforts to get the usually reticent male members of the audience dancing. Those techniques were unnecessary, however. With its pulsating bass lines and wailing saxophones, Crespo’s 16-piece orchestra spoke straight to the hips.

The merengue is, after all, the most frantic and infectious of all Latin rhythms. Crespo brings to it his distinctive nasal vocal delivery, well-choreographed dance steps and a relaxed stage presence that brings to mind the calculated movements of a dangerous feline.

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Second-billed Los Tri-O offers a symphonic pop take on the wistful trio music that swept Mexico and then the rest of Latin America in the 1940s and ‘50s. The three singers and their 16-piece band re-created some lush textures. But the emphasis on the percussive side of the arrangements managed to “salsify” the bolero, making classic romantic ballads such as “Rayito de Luna” and “Contigo” sound bouncy instead of languorous.


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