Tuesday's show at the Garden was the third stop on the U.S. leg of her world tour to promote "The Sun Comes Out," which arrives Oct. 19. Shakira hasn't toured in four years, and the crowd was eager to see if she could still bring it live.
When the lights went down, she appeared at the far end of the arena in a pink hooded dress. Opening with the ballad "Pienso en Ti" (from her 1996 debut, "Pies Descalzos"), Shakira moved slowly through the aisles toward the stage, touching hands as people reached out to her. The song, which translates to "I think of you," was performed entirely in Spanish, which she did frequently throughout the set, making it clear that despite her ambition to conquer the North American market, she is not forsaking her Spanish-speaking audience.
By the time she reached the thrust stage, she shed her dress for black lycra stretch pants and a gold sequined top, tantalizing in front of a digital screen two stories high. Moving into the bouncing, guitar-driven "Te Dejo Madrid" from her 2001 breakthrough "Laundry Service," Shakira raced around before stopping to jam a harmonica solo.
Breathlessly, she told the crowd: "I am here to please you. Tonight I am yours."
With the new album still weeks away, the night mostly was about hits, and all were crowd-pleasing. "Si Te Vas" was followed by "Whenever, Wherever" - during which she brought four girls from the audience onstage for a hip-shaking lesson -- "Inevitable" and haunting acoustic versions of Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" along with "Gypsy" and "La Tortura."
Her voice is a powerful instrument, effortlessly weaving through styles: Think Kylie Minogue and Ann Wilson with the gravitas of Kate Bush. But what sets her apart from today's pop singers, and what made Shakira stand out Tuesday night, is her great warmth and spirit of conviction. She seems happily lost in her music and eager to share it, like a yodeling muppet with a Eurail pass. When she smiles, people smile back; when she dances, people want to dance with her.
And whether belly-dancing or gyrating like Elvis, the girl knows how to move. "Ciega, Sordomuda," one of Shakira's infectious early hits, got them dancing. It was followed by the reggaeton thumping of new songs "Gordita" and "Loca" and the silly but entertaining "She Wolf."
When the barefoot singer returned for an encore, she thanked New York profusely, offering love and hope for the crowd. After a short ballad from the new album, "Antes de las Seis," she called in "Hips Don't Lie" (and showed off why) and closed with the rousing 2010 World Cup anthem, "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)," complete with Kiss-style confetti cannons.
If anything, Tuesday's performance cemented Shakira's place as an arena-rock star. Her show is a magnificent parade of lights and music, but as one audience member pointed out, "She doesn't need all that, but she needs to get those hips insured."