Two very distinct Latin artists shared the Hulu Theater stage last week at Madison Square Garden, after announcing their “Amarte” tour throughout the United States and Canada this past December 2017. Chilean Mon Laferte brought her cabaret style, indie rock show to a packed house, as she played before headliner Juanes. Her dramatic appeal was more than pure entertainment. Mon Laferte tattoos, vintage pin-ups, and rockabilly personae adorns her vast range of musical genres. Her playful flirtation with the audience while performing songs of love and desire such as “Vuelve por favor,” “Tu falta de querer,” “Amor completo,” “Si tú me quisieras,” and “Mi buen amor” made her the indisputable queen of solitude and heartache anthems.
Most impressively weren’t just the stars, but Mon Laferte’s band. The interactions between the band and Mon Laferte enhanced the colorful show, basking in the theatrical. Donning green suits, the band became an imperative extension of Laferte’s experience, and not just an invisible role relegated to playing complicated compositions. Their ability to perform such complex rhythms, amalgamating a huge repertoire of diverse genres, left the audience in absolute awe. They converted the stage into a bohemian cabaret, immersing themselves into choreographed satirical drama, especially during the “No te fumes mi marihuana” number. They brought an essential point to live music: it’s important to recognize musicians for their talent, dedication, and work; not just the music produced. Playing ska, blues, rock, cumbia, boleros, and even operatic vocalizations requires a level of expertise mostly experienced in closed music circles such as in jazz clubs, classical music orchestras, and musical theater. Their performance brings forth the point that such work should never be substituted by engineered technology that simply reproduces the sound but dehumanizes the instruments. In doing so, their supporting role elevates Mon Laferte’s voice as a powerful instrument; one capable to deliver emotions effortlessly.
An expected moment arrived almost at the end of her set, when Juanes joined her for their cumbia number “Amárrame.” Juanes, wore his solidarity with a Martin Luther King, Jr. hoodie shirt with the speech’s title “I Have a Dream” engraved in the back. Even though the song’s lyrical content has nothing to do with his sublime nod, it certainly was apparent. Throughout the entire concert, the screen had filmed graphics and photographic collages. The most endearing was during her song “El Cristal” which she wrote after her grandmother’s passing. During the performance the graphics showed pictures of the funeral and her family. The trippy graphics over the cannabis song where the highlight of the visuals. Laferte left the public wanting more and would certainly fill any arena in New York, given she expressed several times her crippling nerves as she performed in such a big stage. She was without a doubt, a tough act to follow.
However, headliner Juanes did so 30 minutes later, sans hoodie shirt. His set started with astronaut visuals, going over the moon for love. The over-the-top introductory visuals were like his “Mis planes son amarte” music video. In contrast with his predecessor, his set was simpler and less theatrical. Performing most of his love-and-loss hits such as “A Dios le pido,” “Fotografía,” “La camisa negra,” “Es por tí,” “Me enamora,” “Volverte a ver,” “Nada valgo sin tu amor,” “La paga,” and “Para tu amor,” the show was a constant reminder of why Juanes has conquered more than Latino/a audiences worldwide. Missing from the repertoire, however, was “Yerbatero,” the other cannabis themed anthem; a counterpoint to Laferte’s earlier dedication to the plant.
The Colombian superstar allowed the music to speak for itself. His shy demeanor was endearing, as he rarely addressed the audience. When he did, he repeated his gratitude for being in New York several times. With a four-piece band- including one of the best guitarists in the industry- Juanes pumped his audience to a crescendo, climaxing on the stadium anthem “Mala gente,” before exiting the stage. A public thirsty for more chanted for his return. He obliged with a much-deserved honor to Juan Gabriel as he interpreted “Querida” in his memory. Ending the show on a high note with “La luz,” followed by copious showers of huge confetti, Juanes proved there’s no need to be an on-the-nose rebelde to rock.
Marlena Fitzpatrick writes for several outlets, including Latino USA, Enclave and Latino Rebels. She tweets from @marlenafitz.