Fans at NRG were "Livin' La Vida Loca," on Friday, March 4.
Puerto Rican star Ricky Martin made his debut performance at RodeoHouston to 56,781 paying customers, delving into his bag of bilingual hits and reminding everyone why he's one of the top-selling Latin artists of all-time with a professionally produced, high-energy performance.
Drawing from many Latin American influences in music and stage presentation, Martin and his eight-piece band and group of dancers brought some much needed sexiness to the dirt and dust.
When his name was announced, no doubt many English-speaking American rodeo-goers scratched their heads. Martin has been somewhat of a non-entity since he bottled lightning at the turn of the century with his first major success in the United States after years as a member of the Spanish-speaking boy band Menudo.
His early-millennium hits were inescapable, his impossibly handsome looks and Latin pop firmly entrenched themselves on MTV, including the bellweather of youth cool, Total Request Live.
But Martin was absolutely huge across the globe before he hit big in the U.S., so it wasn't some fluke that he moved units stateside. When English audiences started to grow weary of shaking their bon-bons, Martin made the smart business decision to head back to the predominately Spanish music that made him an international star in the first place, selling another truckload of records in the process.
Overall, Martin has sold over 70 million albums, placing 11 No. 1 songs on the Latin charts, and 27 top tens. He's picked up a handful of Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards (notably not for any of his English work). Not too shabby for a former boy band member, who established his cred as a solo artist a few years before Justin Timberlake followed the same model to stardom.
Not surprisingly, Martin opened with his most well known and commercially successful song, "Livin' La Vida Loca," his first and only U.S. chart-topper which spent five-weeks at No. 1. Surrounded by his team of dancers with palm trees, the 50-year-old singer looked fantastic, sporting a caped jacket, black kulats and and black army boots with his distinctive, perfectly coiffed hair, well-manicured beard, and defined arms.
"Are you ready to have a good time?," Martin asked the crowd as he moved his hips, drawing a cheer from many who were already up on their feet. Next came "La Bomba," from his fourth studio album, Vuelve, which Martin has included in the setlist for every tour since 1998. It served as a showcase for his talented brass section while he salsa danced out to one of the five star points on the RodeoHouston stage.
The first of many interludes for costume changes — which rivalled Cher for sheer volume — featured a "Stomp"-like drum quartet of dancing drummers, impressively busting out percussive jump ropes. Martin once again drew from Vuelve for Spanish hit "Lola Lola," now in a sleeveless vest, gaining confidence on vocals, emphatically finishing with a boxer routine to the salsa, rhumba, flamenco, and jazz-imbued notes.
Well-known English No. 12 hit "She Bangs" was one of the night's best performances with Martin's female dancers dressed in sultry lace fishnets, grooving to the pop hooks while he played ringmaster. That gave way to his other popular English pop song, "Shake Your Bon-Bon," with life-sized dice props.
Martin didn't talk much during the evening, but when he did it was to either hype up the crowd or to express his gratitude. "Thank you for the love Houston," he told the audience before the titular Vuelve-track, which won him his first Grammy award. The slow jam included a cellphone light display from the stands, as Martin was raised 20-feet in the air on a star point while he smoothly sang before two excellent guitar solos from his band.
A one-two punch of Spanish songs, 2006's "Pegate" and 2015's "La Mordidita" kept the temperatures high with Martin now dressed in white from head-to-toe, sporting what looked like orthopedic sneakers. "Maria," widely considered one of the best Latin dance-pop crossovers of all-time as a five-million selling single, produced some of the loudest cheers of the night with its "Un, Dos, Tres" chorus. That was was followed by the Martin-Maluma duet, "Vente Pa' Ca" before the last interlude of the night.
Saving his star-making turn for last, Martin wrapped up with "The Cup of Life," the official song for the 1998 World Cup which still worked as a populist anthem almost 25 years after its release. A quick introduction of his band and then it was waves from an SUV, wrapping up a sturdy performance from the seasoned singer.
If there were any criticisms from the night was that Martin took too many breaks between songs for costume changes and probably to catch his breath, limiting his song selection to 10 tracks. Like many debut artists at RodeoHouston, Martin mostly kept to the rotating center stage area, mainly due to choreographed dance numbers.
Martin has never had very much rhythm when it came to dancing, but that said, he put nearly all middle-aged men in the audience to shame, enthusiastically keeping up with his group of talented stage performers.
All-in-all, the Latin heartthrob brought an extremely professional show to RodeoHouston, and while he could have stood to take some chances and play a bit looser, he delivered the goods to the crowd of adoring fans that showed up to pay tribute to the four decade-hitmaker.
"Livin' La Vida Loca"
"Shake Your Bon Bon"
"Vente Pa' Ca"
"Cup of Life"