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