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Review: Juanes thrills Tampa's Straz Center with arena-sized rock-star theatrics

It was hard to tell if it was the thunder outside or inside that was rattling the walls of the Straz Center on Sunday night, as Colombian rocker and humanitarian Juanes was making the final stop of his Loud and Unplugged Tour.

The music may have been (mostly) acoustic, but it was loud and the electricity that wasn't flowing into instruments drove the flashing spotlights that followed the 40-year-old global star around the stage as he sang hits spanning 13 years, encouraged audience participation and chatted it up with fans.

Juanes has said people don't have to be Latino to connect with his music. Don't speak Spanish? No problem; there's always the magic of the rhythms and the melodies.

He's right ... kinda. This rabid fan — who can only Google the translation of his songs — never, ever more badly wished she habla Espanol (as most at the almost-full Straz Center did) than when the sexy, movie-star-handsome singer chatted it up with the audience.

Wearing tight, ripped jeans and a jacket, the singer — so proud of his Colombian heritage that he refuses to do an entire CD in English — opened with the title song from his debut album, Fijate Bien, which means "look carefully." Unlike in most of his songs, he isn't talking about love, as he melds rock with traditional Colombian music. He's talking about the land mines buried by drug lords in Colombia: Look carefully where you tread / Look when you walk / In case a mine destroys your feet, my love.

Juanes had the audience on its feet with Camisa Negra ("Black Shirt") early in the show, and they were up and down through many of the 17 songs he zipped through with his 11-piece band — including congas and bongos and maracas and horns — and throwback rock antics like playing behind his back or jumping around the stage like Pete Townsend.

The crowd waited patiently for arguably his most famous song, A Dios Le Pido ("I Ask of God"), one of five hits from his second album, Un Dia Normal in 2002. What does he ask of God? "If I die, let it be of love." Ah. It was so worth the wait. Got everyone so pumped they hardly noticed the deep puddles they had to go through to get back to their cars.

His female backup singer, Rachel Sofia of Puerto Rico, was also the opening act, a quick 20-minute set that showcased her fantastic pipes. Keep your eye out for her first album. She has a beautiful voice and wowed the audience when Juanes pulled her to the front of the stage to sing back and forth with him on Fotografia.

By the way, not many people in America seem to know who Juanes is. I'm afraid Juan Es(teban) Aristizábal Vásquez might be the most talented and famous (he's sold 16 million albums around the world) rocker no one knows. It's a shame. The world's getting smaller. Our interests should be getting wider.

(Oh, and note to self: Learn Spanish.)

-- Patti Ewald, tbt*