Review: Shakira Returns To U.S.

Colombian superstar adds more songs, subtracts backing tracks.

SAN DIEGO — Colombian singer Shakira landed her Latin America-engulfing Anfibio (Amphibious) tour on U.S. soil with a splash.

The pop en español superstar was recently criticized for her short sets, extensive use of pre-recorded backing tracks (at least in her Puerto Rico appearance a week earlier) and high ticket prices, which reached $95 here. And while that's par for established Latin-pop acts in this country, the most expensive tickets at Shakira's Montevideo, Uruguay, show were equivalent to that country's average monthly salary.

At the San Diego Sports Arena on Wednesday, however, Shakira rode a cheering, screaming wave generated by her young, cross-border audience of 10,300, who sang along and screamed approval throughout the 15-song, 85-minute show.

The 23-year-old superstar's performance was marked by such notable U.S. influences as Alanis Morissette, Natalie Merchant, Bob Dylan (though she plays better harmonica), Janis Joplin, Madonna (with whom Shakira shares both her blond ambition and former manager, Freddy DeMann), Elvis Presley and Tori Amos.

Shakira's success doesn't rely on Latin ritmos, which sets her apart from the scene's Rickys and Enriques. While proudly declaring, "Soy una chica del tercer mundo" ("I'm a Third World girl"), Shakira has also distanced herself from that niche. "Although it may help me, I don't feel myself to be a part of that explosion," she told a Buenos Aires newspaper last month, adding that she doesn't consider her sound Latin because "I've always sung pop-rock."

Some Latin elements were incorporated into her concert, though. The ranchera parody "Ciega, Sordomuda" (RealAudio excerpt) ("Blind, Deaf & Dumb") went over well with the Mexican-laced crowd (the catchy dance mix helped). And "Moscas en la Casa," perhaps the finest of her masterful moping-about-the house-ballads, had a bolero feel.

"Alfonsina y el Mar," the only song she performs on tour for which she didn't write the lyrics, was a poetic Argentine ballad ("Alfonsina asleep, dressed in sea") that Shakira sang beautifully, with the barest of accompaniment.

But her most appealing number remains "Ojos Asi'" (RealAudio excerpt) ("Them There Eyes," as it were), the closer on her language-irrelevant 1998 triumph, Dónde Están los Ladrones? With its big beat, galloping-camel percussion and, yes, backing tracks sadly missing at this concert, the song has proven perhaps the most disarming synthesis of Arab (Shakira is half-Lebanese) and Western pop elements since Chaba Fadela and Cheb Sahraoui's Algerian rai classic, "N'Sel Fik." And Shakira can dance to it.

More typical was "Si Te Vas," so North American it's practically Canadian. The song is essentially a canny translation of Morissette's "You Oughta Know." Shakira's well-channeled displays of brattitude have gotten her pegged as the "Latin Alanis." She does have a few Morrisettian skeletons in her closet. "When you look at me . . . I become a little girl" Shakira sang in "Tus Gafas Oscuros" ("Your Dark Glasses"), which she wrote at age eight and recorded for her unheralded 1991 debut album, Magia.

Shakira's role models appear to include such non-Latin types as the expressive Kate Bush, robot-man Michael Jackson and brazen showgirl Cher, whose styles she combines to sometimes bizarre effect. This show's oddest moments came during a pair of religious numbers. "Octavo Di'a" (RealAudio excerpt) ("Eighth Day") was given a crunching heavy-metal treatment, while "Estoy Aqui" mutated into a disco inferno.

Shakira turned topical on the rocking, harmonica-aided "Dónde Están los Ladrones?" ("Where Are the Thieves?"), her barely veiled attack on corruption in Colombia. The singer even cops to her own culpability, observing "I'm the worst of the thieves."

She adopted a lighter tone on "Antologla," a nostalgic first-love reminiscence, and rocked even harder on the rambunctious, pogo-tempo teen anthem "Pies Descalzos, Sueños Blancos."

Shakira's Anfibio tour concludes Saturday in Miami.