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Flamenco Fire

Gipsy Kings give crowd a spirited performance


By Thor Christensen / The Dallas Morning News

At their best, the Gipsy Kings capture everything that's great about flamenco music: the stormy mood, the hard-driving tempo, the indescribable force that makes makes you leap out of your seat and dance so wildly that security guards have to come and take you away.

At their worst, however, they parody flamenco with spastic, overwrought crooning that makes Michael Bolton seem a master of subtlety.

But thankfully, the French band with the Spanish sound spent more time on the former during its rousing show Thursday night at Coca-Cola Starplex. The seven Kings and their five-man backing band played with such spirit and jubilance they almost made you forget the unsavory taste left by that omnipresent Burger King TV commercial they made recently.

Like all good flamenco outfits, the Kings drive their music with acoustic guitar - or in their case, six and sometimes seven acoustic guitars. But despite the arsenal of axes onstage, the instrument to watch was the one in the hands of lead guitarist Tonino Baliardo, who emerged as the understated heart and soul of group.

Mr. Baliardo has chops and technique to burn, but he never stooped to showing off: His fast, explosive solos were always to the point; his dreamy passages never veered into New Age-land.

Mostly, he played his instrument with the attack of a jazz drummer. When he teamed up with two percussionists to open the second set, Mr. Baliardo led the way, thumping out a joyous beat and weaving his fret work into the other players' rhythms.

The other Kings played with a similar verve, tossing a snippet of the rock instrumental "Tequila" into one song and stirring bits of Afro-pop into their French-Spanish gumbo. Fast tunes such as "Baila Me" and their big hit "Bamboleo" (a.k.a. "the Burger King tune") had the crowd dancing in the aisles, but even some of the slower numbers were infectious enough to get fans up and grooving.

Lead singer Nicholas Reyes put the only damper on the show with his bombastic crooning. He could be subtle when he wanted to - he kept his lung power in check during a wistful ballad during the second set.

Yet he squandered too much of the show wailing and quavering like Jackie Gleason faking a heart attack in The Honeymooners. In Mr. Reyes' defense, a lot of European pop music is filled with male singers bellowing like love-struck cows. Perhaps he's merely carrying on tradition.

But tradition or not, the best moments in the Gipsys' show came when the other Kings sang lead or when Mr. Baliardo was coaxing poetry out of his guitar.