They Got Next

Overcoming language barriers and fickle fandom at a sold-out reggaetón block party

Tego Calderón, pegged as maybe reggaetón-not-reggaetón's best current crossover bet, was, sadly, a bit less boisterous, his sung hooks infectious but his manner nonchalant; he was almost swallowed up entirely by the fireworks and random bursts of flame and noodle-thin backup dancers that filled the stage all night but often overwhelmed the actual stars. Show closers Wisin y Yandel came the closest to integrating all this theatrical noise into a Broadway-worthy production, their ubiquitous hit "Rakata" the official battle anthem of the moment.

But the man of the hour was Don Omar. Another big, tough, loping dude, but with enough swagger to outswoon the lithe ladymen who preceded him, he flaunted the most range sonically and emotionally, from full-blast SUV jams to Spanish-guitar- inflected torch songs. He shone the brightest when the crowd was least into it. That all-night double echo kept the crowd sounding huge and thoroughly enthralled, but when Don launched into a harder-edged hip-hop track no one seemed to recognize, everyone fell instantly, eerily silent. The Garden’s masses were generous but responsive and demanding all night, booing earlier acts when the pace slacked or the DJs struggled with their gear. Now they’d been hit, seemingly for the first time, with a tune they didn’t already have burned into their hearts and minds by the radio station that brought them here. Don sensed that confusion and seemed to triple in size, his baritone suddenly hotter, louder, angrier to fill the space. Without the roaring masses it felt like you were actually hearing the guy with the mic onstage for the first time tonight, no echo to cloak him, your attention focused on the song itself and not the worshipful reaction. The music, not the hype; the performer and not the Pudding of the Month box he’s packaged in. I didn’t understand a word, but I know what he said: I am the next reggaetón.

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