Toby Love/ Girlz Talk

Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh

Sunday, Feb. 22

Bronx bling met Dominican swagger Sunday night at the Lincoln Theatre, where ‘crunckchata” chanteur Toby Love and his protegés, Girlz Talk, played to a house of about 50. Love, neé Octavio Rivera Jr, is Puerto Rican, ‘but I have Dominican family,” he says.

A former member of bachata boy band Aventura, Love claims he’s 24 (though other sources add 5 years to that). At least he owns the youthful image, spicing our interview with ‘yes ma’ams” and wears a black chainmail hoodie and ‘Gucci” backpack, plastic still covering the double G’s like Love’s a teenager on his first day of school.

The stage show definitely had a ‘before you were famous” feel to it, although Love has toured as far as Dubai, and has had some chart success with tunes like ‘Llorar Lloviendo.” Optimism and energy trumped some uneven choreography, as two female dancers with hot pants and overbrimming cleavage popped and locked alongside Love, shadowed by another male dancer.

Muscular Dominican rhythms and bass-heavy R&B balladry mark this mix of hip-hop and bachata, which Love calls ‘urban bachata.” Reggaeton reared its head, too, but didn’t stay for more than a minute at a time. The bachata dancers had to change gears for the occasional straight up R&B groove. Love’s merengue at hyperactive speeds was the most fun, showcasing a fantastic tambora player, who doubled on bongo for the bachata tunes. I had hoped for more excitement from the electric trio of lead guitar, rhythm guitar and bass, usually a highlight of a Dominican live show. The section was just adequate, not formidable.

Like a little Usher meets Al Green, Love sang Spanish lyrics about getting married and crying in the rain, unafraid to show his sensitive side. I appreciated the gender even-handedness with which both male and female members of Love’s crew joined in a ‘get crazy” dance contest, accelerating their down-and-dirty moves in wry exhibitions of sexual humor. It wasn’t a long show, but tasty enough, like a sandwich without the happy meal.