It’s close to 10 years ago now that I watched two devoted fans disassemble and cart away a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Colombian pop star Juanes in the lobby of his sold-out show at Hard Rock Live.
The singer has since graduated to arenas, but his “Loud and Unplugged Tour” finds him in more intimate surroundings, including a Friday stop at Hard Rock Live.
For the record, he still qualifies as a heart-throb (at least judging from the women around me), but this 90-minute performance transcended the screaming.
Musically, the Loud and Unplugged concept – a nod to the singer’s 2012 MTV Unplugged album – is seemingly a contradiction. Happily, Juanes managed to downsize without sacrificing the music’s fiery emotion.
An opening foray that included the infectiously rhythmic “La Camisa Negra,” was dance-floor ready. Although acoustic guitars were prominent in the mix, the sound was still big and bold.
And the cutbacks obviously didn’t involve personnel.
Juanes was accompanied by a flexible 11-piece ensemble that included a trio of percussionists, three horn players, two energetic background singers, rhythm section and a multi-instrumentalist equipped with guitars, banjo and ukulele.
That banjo was utilized inventively in a Latin-tinged cover of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved,” one of the rare songs that Juanes performed in English. Although he has resisted the temptation to become a Ricky Martin-style pop-crossover, Juanes could make the transition with one hand tied behind his back.
Unfortunately, that might mean abandoning the expressive, emotionally charged songs that he and his band delivered on Friday. In front of a utilitarian backdrop of sheer curtains accented by understated lighting, the band shifted smoothly from romantic ballads to frisky beat-driven songs.
On the love songs, Juanes invested the pop-flavored “Dificil” and “Fotografía” with credible passion without turning things overly sentimental. Even so, he and the band shone most brightly on the high-octane stuff, especially “La Noche,” the exuberant tribute to Colombian salsa king Joe Arroyo.
And the notion of being loud and unplugged really fulfilled its potential on the band’s extended “Me Enamora,” which closed the main set with a round of inspired instrumental solos.
Even unplugged, this show was pretty electric.