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Shakira's act proves easy to stomach

It's hard to overstate the importance of Shakira's stomach. Her songs are nice enough: vigorous pop-rockers, emotional ballads, and exotic dance tunes tethered by the Latin rhythms of her native Colombia. Shakira's singing is rich, if schizophrenic, and even a non-Spanish-speaking listener can appreciate the real feeling in her delivery.

But the belly. It's a marvel of fluttering cadence, a bronzed bridge between the sequined north and shimmering south. Shakira intuits that the way to a fan's heart is through her stomach, and she dared to remove it from view only once in her concert on Tuesday. Wisely, she substituted a red satin gown that sprouted wings and which -- by the end of ``No" (a lovely ballad, incidentally) -- formed a dazzling crimson funnel cloud around the singer.

That's not to entirely de-emphasize Shakira's songcraft, but by far the most compelling thing about this international superstar is her body. And before you angry e - mailers hit the send button, let me clarify. Shakira's body is a vessel -- for her unusual poetry, for her politics of empowerment, and for a legitimately expansive stylistic palette that spans arena rock (``Don't Bother" ), lounge music (``Obtener Un Si" ), and plenty of world-pop anthems.

Because Shakira is one of those rare superstars whose sexuality is earthy and complicated rather than crass and calculated, her concert felt more like sensual celebration than choreographed titillation. Her hips don't lie -- although the live version of ``Hips Don't Lie" suffered from Wyclef Jean's trifling flow. (The former Fugee rendered himself virtually irrelevant during an opening set that featured Bob Marley covers, a tribute to Carlos Santana, his modestly gifted sister, and a couple of his old band's tunes.)

Shakira fashioned a well-paced set that alternated older, humbler tracks with the blockbuster hits ``Whatever, Whenever" and ``Underneath Your Clothes" and a judicious handful of new material from 2005's ambitious two-volume set: ``Oral Fixation" and ``Fijacion Oral." Despite a near-capacity crowd that genuflected at her altar, Shakira came off as anything but a diva. Between-song patter was down-to-earth and on point. Her pants were baggy, her feet were bare, and she smiled a lot. I know a few pop tarts who might learn a thing or two about how sexy sweet can be.

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