Juanes: Lively, exceptional music at Amway (US)

Colombian rock star Juanes named-checked his homeland about a dozen times on Sunday at the Amway Arena. For a lesser performer, that would qualify as a gratuitous plea for applause, along the lines of shouting "Hello, Orlando!" It sounds utterly sincere, however, when a singer backs it up with material that so passionately embraces the notion of nationalism.


Songs such as "Bandera de Manos," off the singer's La Vida .. .. . Es Un Ratico, celebrate the idea that peace and national pride can co-exist. Juanes introduced it with an exhortation, in Spanish, to "unite and build one flag."

The centerpiece of the show, which unfolded over a generous and skillfully executed 2 hours, was "Minas Piedras," an emotionally charged ballad. The song about the human toll of land mines was presented against a backdrop of evocative photos of injured victims on three giant video screens.

Most of the night, however, the screens were devoted to close-ups of Juanes, who is arguably a very good-looking man. At least, that's what all the women were saying.
Visually, the show was equally attractive. Behind the 6-piece band, the stage was adorned with an arsenal of spotlights affixed to scaffolding that jutted out from a circular hub like six giant arrows.

Fortunately, Juanes doesn't need to lean on special effects.
The music is a captivating blend of cumbia and other native Colombian beats melded to a reliable assortment of catchy melodies and big choruses. If he wanted, Juanes could be a huge crossover star with English-speaking audiences, but it's not worth messing with his distinctive style.

On Sunday, the rhythm section provided the heartbeat for a set that shifted from the sultry syncopation of the opening "A Dios le Pido" ("I Ask of God") into the anthemic pop of "Volverte a ver" and into the highly infectious salsa romp of the closing number, Joe Arroyo's classic "Rebelion."
The musicians were helped by a wonderful sound mix, perhaps the best in recent memory at the troublesome old arena. The excellent sound was even more surprising considering that the upper bowl was closed, offering plenty of acoustically inhospitable hard surfaces.

When he wasn't singing, Juanes was extremely chatty - offering rambling monologues about his career, his homeland and his gratitude to the fans. Before "Me Enamora," he announced that the song was being broadcast live on a television show back in Colombia.
He prefaced a tender version of "Sueños," a song about the dream of a peaceful world, with some philosophy:
"The most important thing in life to dream," Juanes said. "A man who doesn't dream is not alive."
On Sunday, Juanes proved that his own dreams yield engaging music that deserves to live a long time.

Von: 13.4.2008, blogs.orlandosentinel.com

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