Juanes / March 6, 2008 / New York (Madison Square Garden)
Leading the entire arena - some fans waving Colombian flags, others aiming cell phone cameras - in a chorus of call and response, Juanes opened his Madison Square Garden show with his 2002 breakout hiLeading the entire arena - some fans waving Colombian flags, others aiming cell phone cameras - in a chorus of call and response, Juanes opened his Madison Square Garden show with his 2002 breakout hit "A Dios le Pido." Not unusual for his chart toppers, it is at once a love song and a universal prayer for peace.
The audience then rallied on their feet at the first sound of “No Creo en el Jamás" (which opens last year's "La Vida…Es un Ratico" album after which his current tour is named), an anthem powered by Springsteen-like guitars whose lyrical structure echoes the nueva canción of the sixties protest song movement in Latin America. Everyone’s hands were in the air in what could have been as much a gesture of solidarity as a typical stadium pop salute.
Juanes inspired throughout the Thursday night concert - the first of his tour - during which he seemed as happy to be there as his audience to have him there, telling them in Spanish, "I wish I could hug all of you."
His dual roles as international pop superstar and activist found harmony on stage and on the large video screens, where the expected close-ups of Juanes gave way to a moving slideshow of photos of amputee victims of Colombian land mines during his song "Minas Piedras," and later, animated peace symbols. (Less in synch was a commercial for tour sponsor Ford starring the singer that played at the start of the concert.)
"We're showing the very positive side of Latin people here tonight," said Juanes, when he briefly addressed the audience in English during one point in the show.
In Spanish, before the song "Una Sola Bandera" ("One Flag"), he said he "Extended his right hand to his Ecuadorian brothers and his left hand to his Venezuelan brothers." The next day, Juanes announced he and other artists would give a free concert for peace on the Colombian-Venezuelan border.
Performing songs that spanned his career, Juanes showed an impressive vocal range and proved, again, what has made his music so popular. His unselfconscious fusion of rock, romance, Afro-Colombian rhythms ("Gotas de Agua Dulce," a highlight) pop and salsa (his trademark encore, Colombian salsero Joe Arroyo's "Rebelión") is, for his Latin audiences, atleast, a connection to what is inside of everyone. If, at times, Juanes' sound can seem repetitive, it doesn't matter to the millions for whom Juanes is a Latin American icon. To them, he comes off as humble as the muchacho next door. He’s a star with so much heart that you can't help singing along to his song.