Review: Romeo Santos seduces Miami at AmericanAirlines Arena concert

Romeo Santos performs at the AmericanAirlines Arena on May 31, 2014. Photo: Tomas Loewy

Romeo Santos wears his “King of Bachata” crown with a wink and a grind – as well as a full-throated, rollicking charisma that had a sold-out AmericanAirlines Arena roaring with adoration and laughter for three hours Saturday night.

Santos reigns over Latin pop music these days. He’s been its top-selling, highest-charting artist since he left hot bachata-R&B quartet Aventura in 2011 for a solo career. The Dominican-American star will end the Formula Vol. 2 tour that brought him to Miami with two shows in the boogie-down Bronx’s Yankee Stadium – his hometown hood – the first Latin act to headline the giant venue since salsa pioneers The Fania All-Stars over 40 years ago.

But he’s a hunky, happy homeboy – not a glowering, arrogant one. For all his mother—-er filled stage patter, whenever Santos proclaimed “I’m in Miami, bitch!” he did it with a self-mocking, celebratory grin. He’s a lusty heartthrob, grinding a crown-and-sceptre stage prop, constantly calling out to the ladies – happily, even clownishly appreciative in a way that took the edge off some salaciously audacious stage antics. When he brought one woman onstage for what’s become a standard concert reality skit, he ran her hand down his body to his crotch, kissed her full out on the mouth – and still seemed like the impudent bad boy who knows he can get away with anything as long as he’s enthusiastically seductive enough.

“Ladies,” he said at one point, “I want you to get close to your guy and say “I can’t stop thinking about Romeo!”

But Santos also has serious musical and vocal chops. He sings with a bachata-style rich, faintly nasal falsetto, soaring with aching sweetness, sharply marking the bouncy rhythm. His 11-piece band, plus two back-up singers, was all guitarists and percussionists except for a single keyboard player, making for an old school, genuinely musical performance – instead of the booming, effects-laden sound that’s become standard for most major concert tours.

The guitarists – Erick Rivera, Alexander Caba, Wilmore Franco and particularly Alvin Medina, with whom Santos bantered over some showy solos – were stellar, ripping off agile, skittering runs of bachata’s distinctive rhythmic trills, energizing the lilting music. The songs, and bachata in general, are very similar in rhythm, structure, and melody. But the show rose above monotony, building energy to surge from one sweetly ecstatic high to another.

The set was minimal; a big screen mostly showing images of Santos, not high end videos, a red-carpeted stairway, a pair of odd-looking gold figures flanking the stage. Santos opened wearing black, drop crotch pants, white t-shirt and gleaming white sneakers, changing later to tan pants and a loose cream-colored top. The packed set list ranged through selections from his two solo albums “Formula Vol. 1 and Vol. 2”, from Promise and Mi Santa to opener Inocente and Odio; to Aventura hits like Por Un Segundo, Su Veneno, and Obsesion; songs by other artists which featured Santos, like Enrique Iglesias’ Loco and Wisin y Yandel’s Noche de Sexo; and two long medleys. The crowd roared with enthusiastic, singalong recognition throughout, seeming to know his every hit by heart.

That Santos still seems effortlessly one with his audience is key to his appeal. He conducted a deafening cheering contest between two sides of the arena. He brought a long series of men onstage to attempt singing a duet with him, bantering, teasing, hugging, and sending them off to roars of laughter and “pa’fuera” (get off!), as relaxed as if he was hanging with a bunch of friends. At the end of three hours, the crowd was still begging for more. When Santos returned to seduce another breathless audience volunteer on a giant red bed for Propuesta Indecente, the crowd was indubitably, totally his.