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Vicente Fernández Gibson Sold Out Concert Review

Vicente Fernández leads a singalong

It's the time-tested story all over again. Fans can't help but join their voices with his. C'mon, now. 'Volver, Volver.'

By Elijah Wald, Special to The Times

Vicente Fernández's latest hit, "Estos Celos," has been No. 1 on Billboard's Mexican regional chart for the last five weeks and in the Top 10 on the overall Latin chart. Another performer would celebrate having the biggest hit in his genre by featuring the song prominently in concert. At Gibson Amphitheatre on Thursday night, Fernández tossed off his latest hit mid-concert, with no comment and to no special applause.

For Fernández, what can one more hit matter? His annual visit to Los Angeles is filling the 6,000-seat venue for eight nights, and the audience couldn't care less if he is currently on the charts. By now, his voice, his songs and his elegantly mustachioed face are part of the Mexican DNA.

"Otra de las viejitas?" ("Another of the oldies?") he asked the crowd midway through his three-hour concert. "Sí!" was the response from 6,000 throats, and soon everyone was singing the chorus to "La Misma" without Fernández needing to prompt them. Singing along is a big part of any Fernández concert. He regularly turned his microphone toward the audience and let the crowd take over. The night's favorites were "Las Llaves de Mi Alma" and "Acá Entre Nos," both of which got prolonged standing ovations, as well as his trademark numbers, "El Rey" and "Volver, Volver," the 1976 hit that in Mexico is practically a second national anthem.

As for Fernández himself, his voice remains one of the wonders of popular music. It is genuinely operatic -- to end several songs, he brought his microphone down to waist level, and even with that minimal amplification his baritone boomed clear and powerful over the amphitheater of screaming fans. Nor did he husband his resources. With the exception of one intricate solo by requinto player Enrique Cortez -- during which Fernández sat smoking a cigarette -- he was singing pretty much the whole three hours.

More than just a concert, it was a celebration of a shared heritage. As Fernández said, introducing a Spanish version of "My Way" ("A Mi Manera"), "This song is not Mexican, but I sing it, and I am more Mexican than many." He was dressed in full charro regalia, a black suit with red embroidery topped off by a broad sombrero and accessorized with a large, silver-mounted pistol on his right hip. Behind him, the stage set was a rural hacienda, with the 10-piece mariachi band lined up on the veranda and video screens above showing the drifting clouds of a country sky.

The finish came shortly before midnight, with Fernández asking the rhetorical question, "What performer who sang for over three hours and was welcomed with such applause and shouting, wouldn't return, return?" -- "Volver, Volver." The final hit sent the crowd home, fully satisfied.

Opening act Graciela Beltran provided a set that could easily have lasted twice as long. An Angelena since childhood, she is a longtime local favorite, with a new album nominated for a Latin Grammy (in the banda category), and she was in excellent voice, getting the crowd on its feet and primed for the master.