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Enrique Bunbury, as usual, gives his all at the Congress

Of his new album “Licenciado Cantinas” Enrique Bunbury says “This is musical love letter LatAmerican songbook.”

Of his new album, “Licenciado Cantinas,” Enrique Bunbury says, “This is a musical love letter to the Latin American songbook.”

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Latin rock firebrand Enrique Bunbury has given his Chicago fans some spectacular shows over the last decade: The “Flamingos” 2003 tour date that started at midnight and ran gloriously past 3 a.m. at the House of Blues. The “Hellville de Luxe” show, full of sound and fury, at the Aragon in 2009. Perhaps best of all, two 2010 shows at the intimate V-Live, with Bunbury so passionate and incendiary, it felt as if each song could be his last.

If his concert Wednesday at the Congress Theater didn’t exactly fall into that exalted territory, it came close. After all, as Bunbury himself said in an interview Tuesday, commenting on one of his idols, Elvis Presley: “He might have sung some bad songs but he never sang a song badly.”

Not to imply that the Congress show ranked below par. Absolutely not. It’s just when expectations run so high, as they always do for a Bunbury concert, there’s bound to be a bit of disappointment if the performance doesn’t reach the realm of ne plus ultra.

Perhaps the theater itself put a damper on the evening. It stands as one of this city’s most grungy and depressing rock venues, and on Wednesday, adding to the negative ambience, it was so freezing cold that many kept on their down jackets.

This tour focuses on “Licenciado Cantinas” (2011), his latest studio release, and his first-ever disc of covers, which the Spanish-born singer-songwriter-guitarist has said reflect his musical education in the bars of Latin America.

Accompanied by his superlative band Los Santos Inocentes, Bunbury kicked off the concert Wednesday with Agustin Lara’s “El Mar, El Cielo y Tu.” Its Ennio Morricone spaghetti Western vibe meets Dick Dale/Link Wray surf-rock groove sets the tone for “Licenciado Cantinas,” as Latin American standards morph into the sounds of the American Southwest.

At the Congress, the first few songs — “Llevame,” “El Solitario” and “Odiame” — faithfully reflected the arrangements of “Licenciado Cantinas.” From “Flamingos” (2002), “Contar Contigo” brilliantly segued over changes in time signatures and keys from “Cantinas” style to the original studio version — and back.

Bunbury and company were totally in the pocket for the rollicking cumbia/zydeco “Animas, Que No Amanezca,” one of the show’s highlights. “El Extranjero,” powered as usual with a blistering accordion, lifted the crowd into a frenzy as Bunbury acknowledged the fans’ ardent reaction.

Always a soulful and superb vocalist, he delivered two of his most impassioned turns on “Puta Desagradecida” (from “El Tiempo de las Cerezas,” 2006) and “No Me Llames Carino” (from “El Viaje a Ninguna Parte,” 2004). On the latter, after putting on a red cowboy hat, he ended the song as if he were a shaman, rolling magic talismans across the stage while Los Santos Inocentes accelerated into a full-out guitar attack.

Though guitarists Jordi Mena and Alvaro Suite, bassist Robert Castellanos, drummer Ramon Gacias and keyboardist Jorge Rebenaque are grand masters of their instruments, at times Wednesday the band approached the ramped-up guitar rock of Heroes del Silencio, the Spanish band in which Bunbury launched his career. For many if not most fans, that probably would be a plus. I’m probably in the minority but I missed the complexities that songs like “Los Habitantes” (from “Las Consecuencias,” 2010) displayed on disc. Or maybe such subtleties were lost in the sonic murk of the Congress.

Still, those points are quibbles. Any concert from Bunbury is a gift, and he gave his all throughout the two-hour performance — and then generously bestowed six encores upon the crowd. If I had won the Powerball drawing this week, I’d be making reservations for the remaining dates on this tour, which ends Dec. 11. Until the next time, here’s a heartfelt toast to the Maestro.



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