When Marc Anthony rolled up his sleeves at Wolf Trap on Tuesday night, he wasn’t just flaunting the silvery bracelets that cinched his tattooed forearms. He was going to work.
“It’s freezing,” he said, joking his way through the final throes of summer, sweating his way through nearly two hours of emotive salsa music that confirmed his place amongst our greatest living singers.
In Latin pop music, superstars don’t blaze brighter than Anthony, a native Nuyorican who launched his musical career in the late ’80s, singing on thumpy freestyle and house music tracks. In 1993, he would migrate toward another dance floor to become one of the highest-selling salseros in history.
Anthony’s new album, “3.0,” circles back to those roots without ceding his foothold in pop. It honors the past, celebrates the present, welcomes the future, and above all, proves that the 44-year-old musician should be famous for the gale force of his singing — not for the fact that he split up with Jennifer Lopez two summers ago.
Tuesday night, Anthony didn’t seem haunted by the ghosts of that galactically publicized divorce, breezing back and forth across the Wolf Trap stage in a loose gait, his steps tightening into flutters and pivots when the rhythm possessed him.
Where his steps were relaxed, his voice was robust. During “Hasta Que Te Conoci,” a Juan Gabriel cover from 1993, Anthony elongated certain syllables, testing the tensile strength of his lungs, and pounced hard on others, demonstrating the precision of his intensity.
It’s the kind of singing that grabs you by the throat — and, depending on where you were seated Tuesday night, Anthony might have grabbed you somewhere else, too. The singer spent much of the night getting touchy-feely with front-row fans, generously doling out handshakes, hugs and kisses, all without flubbing a note — with one exception.
When a strong-armed admirer tossed a stuffed animal toward the stage and ended up beaning Anthony in the face, the singer momentarily stumbled over his lyrics. But he couldn’t have recovered more gracefully. He flinched, smiled, found his footing in the music, then blew a smooch to whoever chucked the toy at him.
It all happened during the set’s most gripping selection, “Te Conozco Bien,” a melodramatic stand-out from Anthony’s 1995 breakthrough album, “Todo A Su Tiempo.” Nearly two decades later, his voice sounded infinitely more muscular, and his command over his band was equally impressive. Here and throughout the night, Anthony’s 15-piece backing troupe swerved between ferocity and tenderness, and, during certain passages, simmered as if the singer was twisting the volume knob on his car stereo.
He cranked it all the way up for his closing number, “Vivir Mi Vida,” a triumphant new hit single designed to be performed for large, adoring crowds like this one. It started with a chanted refrain that signaled voices to join in, then chattering salsa percussion that signaled hips to swivel. After shouting out “mi gente!” — my people! — Anthony bowed, signed a few autographs, blew some kisses and reluctantly said good night.
His people kept singing until they were finally hushed by the house lights.