Shakira: Live & Off the Record

Live & Off the Record

Funny thing about this CD and DVD package: it leaves me with no doubt that Shakira is the real thing — a genuine rock and pop superstar — yet I didn’t like it nearly as much as that conclusion might imply. If I had been among the thousands in Rotterdam when this concert was filmed last year, I no doubt would have gotten a big kick out of it.

After all, in the space of a single lengthy concert, Shakira does it all: she sings and she dances, she changes costumes and talks shop (and politics) with the audience, and she even plays drums and guitar. She even does the robot. Oh, yeah, and she writes her own songs, too. With nary a backup dancer in sight, it’s just Shakira single-handedly embodying decades of pop tropes and her band backing her up with the tunes, a situation which should please both lovers of Madonna-ish spectacle and “just the music, please” lovers of supposed artistic integrity.

In the documentary, she says, quite believably, that she loves rock above all other styles. At the same time, she mentions liking to mix different styles on both record and in concert. We thus get belly dancing, flamenco, mirror balls and lighted floors in different colors, and songs in occasionally oddly cadenced English sung by an originally Spanish star with Lebanese roots to a Dutch audience. All dipped in a smooth-yet-crunchy sweet pop, rock guitar-based sound personally approved by uber-producer Glen Ballard. For those who feel Cornershop is too arty and anonymous (and who don’t mind the underrepresenting of hip-hop in her blend of international styles), Shakira may be the poster child for the pop star and sound of the future.

Even from the DVD alone, I can detachedly admire Shakira’s performance and come away knowing that she’s real talent and effort. Which is a problem only in that, even as a concert film, I shouldn’t be watching all of this detachedly.

Largely, I blame the non-stop camera cuts, cuts sometimes as bad as the performance footage used by music videos. Which can be okay (I guess) in three-minute servings and when there’s some storyline (one usually completely unrelated to the lyrics) developing in the other cuts. But, here, the show’s the only thing and — since you’ve actually bought the DVD — you’re not a channel surfer whose eye needs to be caught. The frenetic cuts start seeming pointless after a while, when you’re already paying attention and you’re really just trying to pay attention to the performance. It grates that, except in the few slow ballads, the camera cuts crazily from angle to angle, near to far, black and white to color, then all back again in various seemingly random combinations and sequences. It especially grates because, when the camera cuts slow, Shakira can hold an audience just by singing and her presence.

In an extreme example, Shakira does some dancing with aerobic contortions and, even then, that blasted camera wouldn’t stay on her; I had to rewatch it in slow motion to figure out exactly what she was doing with her limbs and why the audience started cheering when something happened just as the camera cut (And, no, from watching it over, wardrobe malfunctions weren’t responsible for the cut). Only when the climactic jumbotron footage of “Octavo Dia” — Saddam Hussein and Dubya playing chess, both revealed to be puppets controlled by Death — is juxtaposed with quick cuts of Shakira and the band do the quick cuts make sense by establishing two sides and setting the force of music as opposition to the force of war. Most of the rest is anyone’s guess; maybe the producers decided that modern audiences need unremitting auditory and visual stimuli.

If you’ve seen Shakira in concert and loved it as much as I hypothetically might, you hypothetically might like this disc. The actual memories you have should be able to reconstruct the gaps during which my unfamiliar mind was still trying to adjust to the new camera angles. Though the CD is only a 10-song distillation of the 15-song DVD, the DVD itself is packed. And, yes, it’s interesting to see a performer as good and varied as Shakira in action under any circumstances, and she even comes across as intelligent, down-to-earth, and a committed artist in the documentary. If her English debut has left you impatient for more, I’d probably go for this over an album entirely in Spanish. But if you haven’t been initiated yet into what all the fuss is about and you’re big on sheer entertainment value, stick with Laundry Service.