Ricardo Arjona / June 20, 2009 / Mexico City, MX (Audtiorio Nacional)

Album Review
Guatemalan singer/songwriter Ricardo Arjona’s “Quinto Piso” tour is a conceptual, mixed media piece that assaults all senses and cleverly blends film, performance art and theater with music. Featuring a complex, multi-level theatrical set with multiple ambiences, “Quinto Piso,” (Fifth Floor), so named after Arjona’s latest Warner release, gives new dimension to his music and artful storytelling.

In his sixth and final performance at Mexico City’s Auditorio Nacional, Arjona delivered one of the most memorable Latin concert experiences in recent years, highlighting his vast repertoire, and infusing even the newest songs with novel arrangement that went beyond what’s recorded.

Arjona alternated from purely acoustic renditions, accompanied by solo keyboard or guitar, to multi-layered accompaniments featuring violin, electric cello, sax, guitars, bass, drums and percussion (no background singers). A single song could have multiple arrangements; “Historia de un Taxi,” for example, kicks off with the full band, then has Arjona singing solo with his guitarist, then a sax riff, then a tango-like counterpoint and as a finale, an improvisation between piano and violin.

“Que Nadie Vea,” a track from Arjona’s new album that talks about a homosexual boy that grows up hiding his sexuality, features a video by Finnish group Singur Ros playing up front, and Arjona and his guitarist, in counterpoint, from different points on the stage. It’s a daring song and a daring performance.

Arjona is, above everything, a storyteller and a social commentator. He thrives in interaction, in eliciting responses, from his musicians, from the audience, from his videos.

The set is designed precisely for this purpose, with different “apartments” brought to the forefront for specific songs, featuring videos shot specifically for this show. When he sings “Ni Tú Ni Yo,” his duet with regional Mexican singer Paquita La Del Barrio, for example, Arjona brings out a hologram of Paquita to perform the duet (although some performances have featured her in the flesh).

Arjona breaks rank even in the most mundane things. Instead of bringing the cutest, hottest fan onstage, he opts for a middle-aged mom, whom he serenades with one of his biggest hits, “Señora de las Cuatro Décadas” (Woman of the Four Decades).

Arjona’s songs, with their rich, thoughtful lyrics, have always required attention. The “Quinto Piso” tour, with its many layers of detail, demands and holds the audience’s attention for its more than two-hour run.

“El Quinto Piso” travels next to Latin America before kicking off its U.S. run in Miami July 30.