J. Balvin’s ‘Vi­bras’ a blast at mile­stone Fis­erv Fo­rum show

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Green Sheet - Piet Levy

It took far too long, but the first Latin mu­sic tour to play a Mil­wau­kee arena in 18 years fi­nally hap­pened Thurs­day. Un­for­tu­nately, there weren't a ton of peo­ple who came out to see it. In the wake of the hit "Des­pac­ito," Latin mu­sic is ex­plod­ing in the U.S. Latin mu­sic sales sky­rock­eted 37 per­cent last year, ac­cord­ing to the Record­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica. Lead­ing the way has been Colom­bian reg­gae­ton star J. Balvin, who brought his "Vi­bras" tour to the Mil­wau­kee Bucks' new Fis­erv Fo­rum arena Thurs­day. J. Balvin per­formed his smash col­lab­o­ra­tion "I Like It" with Cardi B and Latin trap star Bad Bunny on the Amer­i­can Mu­sic Awards Tues­day. He's up for eight Latin Grammy Awards next month, more than any other artist. His sin­gle "Mi Gente" has been streamed 2 bil­lion times on YouTube. De­spite all that, the up­per bowl at Fis­erv Fo­rum was closed off for Balvin Thurs­day. He’s not play­ing full-ca­pac­ity are­nas on ev­ery stop of his “Vi­bras” tour; about a third of the 18,500-seat All­state Arena in Rose­mont, Ill., was be­ing cur­tained off for his show there Fri­day. But even in the Mil­wau­kee arena's lower bowl, there were scores of empty seats Thurs­day. That's not sur­pris­ing. A year ago, J. Balvin per­formed in a largely empty River­side Theater. It was a promis­ing show, but what he pre­sented Thurs­day was on an en­tirely new level — a block­buster spec­ta­cle as fun and play­ful as it was im­pres­sive. Balvin him­self is a pretty mel­low and hum­ble per­former, rou­tinely slip­ping into every­man dance moves, and clasp­ing his hands in prayer again and again Thurs­day to show his thanks. But he sur­rounded him­self with a cre­ative, light­hearted stage show, loosely in­spired by "Juras­sic Park." For the set opener, bump­ing "Vi­bras" track "Machika," he sang in front of a danc­ing, 25-foot-tall in­flat­able T-Rex. A few dancers in rap­tor cos­tumes with spiked col­lars stomped and danced across the stage, and the track trans­formed into an in­tense EDM remix set to a spas­tic light show. Six songs later, he was stand­ing atop a 20-foot-tall Pac-Man-style fig­ure with goo­gly, spin­ning eyes, strut­ting cooly to the sparse, ef­fec­tive reg­gae­ton grooves of "X," his col­lab­o­ra­tion with Nicky Jam. At the show's half­way point, he was on a sec­ondary stage in the mid­dle of the arena floor for "Si tu novio te deja sola" (a Bad Bunny col­lab­o­ra­tion) sur­rounded by a laser cage, with smoke cre­at­ing a hazy ef­fect as it slowly floated up to the rafters. Af­ter a few songs, Balvin was back on the main stage, where his eight spec­tac­u­lar dancers, dressed like tech­ni­color cave­men, danced to "I Like It," as an­i­mated, emoji-style bal­loons of Cardi B and Bad Bunny sang and rapped on video screens be­hind the stage. Fol­low­ing his part, the dancers broke into a sharp salsa, to honor the song's key sam­ple of Pete Ro­driguez's "I Like It Like That." The main event, of course, was "Mi Gente." A mas­sive di­nosaur egg spun around on stage to re­veal Balvin in­side while his dancers, car­ry­ing LED canes and wear­ing skele­ton cos­tumes, moved around him — and then paused in place (in­clud­ing one guy who was up­side down on his head) when "Freeze" was called out in mid­dle of the song. When it re­sumed, the beat fu­ri­ously sped up as "Mi Gente," and the show, ap­proached the fin­ish line, as an­i­mated skulls flashed on the video screens, fire­works rained down from above, and clouds of con­fetti filled the arena floor. It's won­der­ful that the Mil­wau­kee Bucks booked a Span­ish-lan­guage con­cert for its new arena — even though Thurs­day's event is likely to have the low­est box of­fice of any Fis­erv Fo­rum con­cert for the fore­see­able fu­ture. I just hope, given the low turnout, it won't take an­other 18 years for us to see an­other one.


J. Balvin brought his "Vi­bras" tour to Fis­erv Fo­rum Oct. 11. It was the first Latin mu­sic tour to play a Mil­wau­kee arena in 18 years.

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