It's hard to believe, but Jennifer Lopez had never played a concert in The Bronx until Wednesday night (June 4). Lopez and her home neighborhood have been inextricably linked ever since the release of her debut album, "On The 6," 15 years ago exactly this week -- an album named for the subway that connected Lopez from her outer-borough home to her big-city dreams. But Lopez made the long wait for a proper homecoming show more than worth the while with a free, 90-minute concert at Orchard Beach in Pelham Bay Park for State Farm's Neighborhood Sessions -- an epically choreographed, pyro-enhanced production with a half-dozen costume changes and numerous guests, no less.
"This is such an amazing moment for me. I am so happy to be home. Doing this tonight is honestly a dream come true for me," Lopez told the crowd three songs in as the sun set on the packed park. She peered out to the crowd of 20,000 and added, "Let me see ya -- where my Latinos at? That's right, we in here!"
Lopez's Bronx-gone-Hollywood narrative is one that played out throughout the night, both in Lopez's song choices and a series of high-produced vignettes touting her journey from New Yorker to Fly Girl to multi-hyphenate entertainer. She opened the show singing the chorus from Skylar Grey (and ex-boyfriend Diddy)'s "Coming Home," which quickly segued into "Same Girl," a song whose video shoot also recently saw Lopez revisiting her roots. Later, she sang recent single "I Luh Ya Papi" in three-part harmony while sitting on a neighborhood stoop set with her backup singers (including "American Idol" alum Pia Toscano). Even fellow Bronx native Fat Joe was one of several surprise guests, who came out to perform his hit "Lean Back."
The concert was one of the lengthiest and career-spanning performances Lopez has ever given, especially considering she did very little touring until 2012 when she went out with Enrique Iglesias for a co-headlining tour in North America before embarking on her first solo trek overseas. And it was full of self-references, from a Versace bodysuit based on the iconic dress Lopez wore to the 2000 Grammys to her first full performance of "Booty," a brand-new track produced by Diplo for her upcoming 10th album "A.K.A." (out June 17) that played up her infamous posterior (nevermind that the booty in question is looking quite proportionate these days.)
It's clear that Lopez learned a lot from her road work in 2012, however, as the show was staged and structured as if she were playing to an arena (which, with a crowd of 20,000, she may as well have.) There were numerous set pieces and intricate costume changes, surprise guests from Lopez's past and present (Ja Rule, Fat Joe, French Montana) and over a dozen dancers. Notably absent onstage was Lopez's choreographer boyfriend Casper Smart, the subject of speculative headlines earlier that day questioning the status of his relationship with Lopez. Smart used his Twitter account to fan the flames, however, retweeting fans' posts and pictures from the concert throughout the night and, at one point, tellingly retweeting a quote from "The Notebook" ("Treat her like you're sill trying to win her, and that's how you'll never lose her").
Lopez, meanwhile, was a consummate pro throughout, even when she appeared visibly emotional after performing a pair of ballads inspired by Lopez's favorite musicals from her youth — "Do You Know Where You're Going To," from the Diana Ross vehicle "Mahogany," and "My Man," from Barbra Streisand's "Funny Girl." It was after the latter, which Lopez dedicated to her mother, that she began to get teary. The song is the show-stopping moment from a movie Lopez she watched with her mother growing up "a million times," and a moment that shares parallels with Lopez's own career, which accelerated after she appeared in her own musical, 1997's "Selena." And indeed, Lopez barely took the time to wipe away tears before leading the crowd in a sing-along to the Tejano legend's classic ballad "No Me Queda Mas."
The idea of Lopez tackling one of Streisand's signature songs is a risky one, especially coming from a singer with far less experience performing live. And indeed Lopez's performance could only hope to lovingly evoke the original than attempt to rival it.
The fact that she even attempted the song at all is a testament to the ambition that got Lopez to the place she's at in her career now, as a sort of Latina Oprah who can excel as a singer, actress, business woman, TV personality, mom, girlfriend all at the same time and inspire others to take on such category-defying approaches to their lives and careers.
While executing flawless choreography on every one of the show's dozen-plus hits, Lopez remains a formidable dancer — one who at 44 can still stand beside the all-time great dancer-singers like Tina Turner and Janet Jackson. But her appeal as a performer has often been built around her sheer ability to proficiently multitask rather than be a powerhouse vocalist or Oscar-caliber actress. Lopez is an entertainer for and of the people, one whose abilities could be seemingly achievable with a similar amount of drive and focus. Plus, she's got a catalog of hits more deep and diverse than most fans probably realize or remember – a laser-drenched "Waiting For Tonight" reached World Cup levels of euphoria for a large swath of fans, as did her Ibiza-worthy 2010 dance anthem "On The Floor."
And, if the rapturous fans have their way, Lopez can still be a pop star who can compete with the big divas of today. "Es no Rihanna, es no Beyonce, es only J. Lo!" screamed one fan shortly after Lopez triumphantly encored with – what else? – "Jenny From The Block." By giving back to the neighborhood that raised her, Lopez left an impression that will stick with the Bronx community for a long time – and, soon, beyond. Steve Stoute, founder-CEO of Translation, the ad agency that helped create the Neighborhood Sessions with State Farm, says content from Lopez's return to the Bronx could soon live as webisodes, or even a TV special. "We've literally shot 60 to 70 hours of content outside of the concert itself – the opportunities are endless on where it could live," he says.
Coming Home (Interlude)
First Love / Ain't No Mountain High Enough medley
Love Don't Cost A Thing
Ain't It Funny / I'm Real (Featuring Ja Rule)
I Luh Ya Papi (Featuring French Montana)
Ain't Worried Bout Nothin (Performed by French Montana)
Lean Back (Featuring Fat Joe)
I'm Into You
Waiting for Tonight
Do You Know Where You're Going To (From "Mahogany")
My Man (From "Funny Girl")
Let's Get Loud
Live It Up (Interlude)
On The Floor
Jenny From The Block