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It took far, far too long, but a Milwaukee arena hosted the first Latin music tour in 18 years Thursday.

Unfortunately, there weren’t a ton of people who came out to the show.

In the wake of “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, and Latin streaming was up 50 percent for the first six months of 2018 compared to the same time frame last year, according to Nielsen. 

Leading the way is Colombian reggaeton star J. Balvin, who brought his “Vibras” tour to the Milwaukee Bucks’ new Fiserv Forum arena Thursday.

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A short history of Fiserv Forum, which has its grand opening on Aug. 26, 2018.
Wochit

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J. Balvin just 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 gigantic single “Mi Gente” has been streamed two billion times on YouTube, and Beyoncé hopped on the remix and invited him to make an appearance during her Coachella set this year. 

Despite all that, the upper bowl was closed off for Balvin at Fiserv Forum 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. is curtained off for his show there Friday. But even in the lower bowl there were scores of empty seats Thursday.

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The public got a chance Sunday to see inside the new Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

That’s not terribly 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.

With a 90-minute show loosely inspired by “Jurassic Park,” Balvin for his set opener sang bumping “Vibras” track “Machika” in front of a dancing, 25-foot-tall inflatable T-rex. A few dancers in raptor costumes with spiked collars stomping and grooving 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. Then at the halfway point, he was on a secondary stage in the middle of the arena floor for “Si tu novio te deja sola,” surrounded by a laser cage, with smoke creating a dreamy, hazy effect as it slowly floated up to the rafters.

After a few songs J. Balvin was back on the main stage, where his eight spectacular dancers, dressed like technicolor cavemen, danced to “I Like It,” as animated singing balloons of Cardi B and Bad Bunny floating on a video screen 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.”

But the main event, of course, was show closer “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, taking a small but passionate crowd to their boiling point, before the song resumed, and then sped up, 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 Fiserv Forum for just its second month of operation — even though Thursday’s event is likely to have the lowest box office of any concert in the arena’s first 12 months. I just hope, given the low turnout, it won’t take another 18 years for us to see another one.

THE TAKEAWAYS

  • The Bucks, and “Vibras” tour promoter Live Nation, certainly took some extra measures to try and make the J. Balvin show as appealing as possible. They were selling good seats for $25, and student tickets for $20, and Thursday’s USA vs. Columbia soccer match was shown inside the arena before the concert and for free in the adjacent plaza.
  • The last Latin music tour that came to a Milwaukee arena? It was Ricky Martin, who on the heels of “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” performed at the Bradley Center on July 3, 2000.
  • Two female fans won the chance to dance with Balvin, and one of them proved to be just as spirited and limber as his eight backing dancers — and certainly more wild, sliding backward across the stage on her stomach while shaking her butt, and twerking incessantly in front of a shocked J. Balvin. 

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Piet Levy talks about concerts, local music and more on “TAP’d In” with Jordan Lee, 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9). Follow him on Twitter @pietlevy and on Facebook at facebook.com/PietLevyMJS.

 

 

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