Say this for Gloria Estefan: When it comes to parting gifts, she doesn't skimp.
The Cuban-born pop star's "farewell tour" stop at the MCI Center on Wednesday night was a lavishly produced spectacle. There were a dozen and a half musicians, 10 exceedingly limber and festively garbed dancers, several giant "Lion King"-style puppets and a bank of video screens that stretched from wing to wing, showing vintage Estefan family snapshots and career-spanning video clips. No partridge in a pear tree was spotted. But there were pelicans and palms and even a cameo by Estefan's 9-year-old daughter Emily Marie, who briefly demonstrated her budding talent for drumming to the crowd's utter delight.
Then again, the crowd never seemed less than delighted by the two-hour show. The opening tune, "Get on Your Feet," triggered the first in a long series of dancing ovations -- given the lyric, how could it not? -- and even when the performances drifted into bland pop ("In the Meantime") or reheated disco ("Everlasting Love"), Estefan never hit a note or groove that didn't sit well with her fans. She's never been a terrifically charismatic performer, but she's always been a reliable one, with a strong voice and a warmly engaging personality.
As always, Estefan spent a lot of time satisfying her Spanish-speaking following, vibrantly recharging "Oye Mi Canto" and, during an acoustic interlude, singing the folk song "Cuando Sali de Cuba" in sync with a tape recording she had made for her father when she was a young girl. A medley of her love songs with English lyrics, dedicated to fellow, hurricane-weary Floridians, seemed routine by comparison.
Her band compensated for the occasional lulls by emphasizing its brassy horn section and a colorful wash of Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Those syncopated beats ultimately spilled over into an elaborately choreographed version of "Conga" that looked as if it were designed for a pop diva's post-touring days in Vegas.
-- Mike Joyce