"I'd like to dedicate this song to the most beautiful mother in the universe," said Alejandro Sanz, running his fingers across a piano at Madison Square Garden's intimate WaMu Theater. Right on cue, over 5,000 fans screamed like they'd been doing all night long, because they knew exactly who he was talking about. Sure enough, a beaming (and very pregnant) Jennifer Lopez stood up in her box seat and waved to the near-hysterical crowd, looking glamorous as ever in a flowing black dress. The tribute to Lopez came during Sanz's encore, long after Marc Anthony had made a surprise appearance onstage to hug his fellow cantante (pintsize songstress Paulina Rubio was also in attendance). It was just one of the countless moments from Sanz's sold-out concert that could have felt overblown, but instead came across as genuinely tender, because that's what the legendary madrileño does best—articulate our most universal, lovestruck thoughts with a poeticism and realness that leaves his peers in a cliché-ridden dust, as he proved throughout the show.
Sanz arrived in New York for the latest stop on his "El Tren de Los Momentos" tour—the original dates were put on hold last year when he entered rehab for exhaustion—and the singer more than made up for the wait, sharing his plan for the night from the moment he walked onstage: "Vamos hacer lo mas possible pa' que esto sea un viajecito." ("We're going to do as much as possible to make this a little journey."). Responding to a crowd that erupted in deafening cheers on the first note of each and every song, Sanz plowed through all of his biggest hits, including the chugging "La Primera Persona," the flamenco-tinged "El Alma El Aire" and the classic "Amiga Mía," for which Sanz choked up lyrics about the artistic forces that drive him: "Esta es mi manera de decir las cosas/No es que sea mi trabajo, es que es mi idioma." ("This is my way of saying things/Not because it's my job, but because it's my language.") As the concert progressed, the fans' self-control did just the opposite. One by one, girls leapt over the stage and were embraced by Sanz for an almost creepily-long period of time before being plucked off by his security guards. Talk about getting your money's worth!
Of course, the concert photos don't lie—the post-rehab Alejandro Sanz is a little pudgy, and the days of the bleached-blond sex symbol who collaborated with Shakira are gone, for now. But the qualities that truly define Sanz's hotness were in top form—a powerful gitano voice that aches with joy, and those eyes that dig deep into a collective soul, pulling out raw emotions that feel all your own.