Tales From Aventura Land

An enchanted evening with the Latin-pop superstars, and the ladies who adore them

When a guy named Romeo points at your girl, who is sitting right next to you, and purrs, "He can't be your man, 'cause I'm your man," you can assume you're in big trouble. "He can't be your papi, 'cause I'm your papi," this impossibly suave interloper adds, triggering the ever-more-histrionic screams of roughly 15,000 girls. Romeo is speaking these words into a microphone onstage at a sold-out Madison Square Garden, which only exacerbates the situation; he further demonstrates his amorousness by lightly humping his mic stand, cooing, "You can feel my smell, right, baby?" as though this is an entirely reasonable and alluring thing to say. He is convincing.

The poor sap whose lady friend has triggered this lascivious monologue is apparently displeased. "This dude looks like he wants to beat the shit out of me!" Romeo marvels. "It's just a show!" He then switches to a torrent of Spanish—used to deliver 85 percent of his banter and 98 percent of his sung lyrics, which is somewhat problematic for me as a non-speaker, though a friendly gentleman whom I've recently befriended offers to translate the sentiment: "She's thinking about me, but you're gonna fuck her." And then Romeo produces a handheld cardboard mask of his own face, to illustrate the erotic visual transference in which this poor sap's girl will soon gladly engage. The shrieks of the aforementioned roughly 15,000 girls grow ever more histrionic, joined now by riotous peals of laughter, including my own.

Hello from Wednesday night's Aventura show, the first of four three-hour MSG fetes in a two-week span, an astonishing victory lap (it certainly makes Lady Gaga's Radio City run look feeble) for this Bronx quartet, whose swaggering, sensitive-tough-guy spin on the almost painfully romantic Dominican Republic tradition of bachata balladry is absurdly dominant: Their fifth studio album, The Last (fake retirement threats, ahoy), sits permanently atop Billboard's Latin chart. Not "on" the chart. Atop.

This is the sort of show that eschews opening acts in lieu of politicians, along with an oversize $50,000 check donated to the Red Cross's Haiti-relief effort. The enormous circular stage rotates lazily, slowly revealing a coterie of backup guitarists, percussionists, keyboardists, etc., and while the other three Aventura dudes—the brothers Max (bass, mercifully rare rapping) and Lenny (guitar) Santos, alongside unrelated cohort and occasional noogie recipient Henry Santos Jeter (vocal harmonies, general wan crowd-hyping)—are excellent hosts, it is Henry's cousin, Anthony "Romeo" Santos, who induces hysteria when he first rises up through the floor, resplendent in a stylish trench coat, bathing in a cacophonic shrieking-female din for a motionless half-minute or so, before tossing his sunglasses into the teeming crowd and carefully depositing his gloves into a suitcase held open by a prim attendant, the band kicking into gear at the precise moment the attendant snaps the suitcase shut. Boom. Perfect.

The boys (in their late twenties, now) cycle through various wardrobe adjustments (nice vests) throughout the evening, and indulge in a few bombastic arena-rock visual tricks—cannons showering the crowd with red confetti hearts during the stormy, urgent "Mi Corazóncito," etc. But far more engaging is Romeo's loopy, voluminous approach to audience interaction. "Ladies, are you feeling sexy tonight? You don't feel sexy? You're sexy to me. [Grabs crotch, inhales sharply.] That's what I'm talking about. You nasty." Nor is he afraid to be service-y ("Females, if you're drinking, no driving. Come to our room!"). Accommodating to a fault ("I hope your favorite song's in this medley"), he is nonetheless unafraid to get real with us, Battle of the Sexes–wise. "I know why men cheat," he announces. [Long pause.] "Because we love pussy." Screams, adoration, mayhem.

For all the mesmerizing, lascivious revelry, the band has a delicate touch, Romeo's voice a delicate falsetto, the music more often than not a sinewy, feather-light bed of nostalgic gallantry with only intermittent nods to ribald modernity, which only makes those jolts more effective. Blaring air horns, bursts of smoke, and a pulverizing reggaeton beat introduce the riotous "Noche de Sexo," which even I don't need translated, thanks. More typical is the monstrous "Obsesión," breezy and lilting and classily retro but with a powerhouse chorus that hits with jet-engine force. Occasional guest stars—Ludacris and Akon on record, noted guitar hero Bernie Williams (!) tonight onstage, briefly shredding (!!) with a Yankee's aplomb—need Aventura more than Aventura needs them, is the point.

One exception to that: None other than Marc Anthony rises up through the floor to tear viciously into Hector Lavoe's "Aguanile," inducing yet more mayhem. Now. The Aventura boys are handsome but not movie-star-devastating, somewhat fit but not absurdly ripped, charismatic but affable. Marc Anthony is not affable. In a severe black suit, wielding his booming voice like a scythe (ripping his own shades off and tossing them onstage during one particularly fraught high note), he stalks the stage like some sort of mesmerizing megawatt-celebrity panther, Romeo content to make some goofy faces and graciously allow his spotlight to be stolen. It's a fantastic and almost unbearably intense moment; it would have been less disruptive and adrenalizing if Madison Square Garden's roof had suddenly retracted and a space shuttle launched from center stage.

And then he is gone, and we are back in Romeo's hands—quite literally, in the case of one young lady plucked from the crowd. ("He always gets a fat girl!" exclaims my new Spanish-speaking friend.) "This is about to get nasty," the singer warns, and verily does it get briefly nasty, the two new lovebirds gyrating horizontally—one last burst of pure, lusty mayhem. Soon, though, to commemorate the song in question ("Un Beso"), they share a more chaste and romantic kiss. "Turn it around!" Romeo commands. "Turn it!" (Referring to the stage.) And soon, as a grand finale, a narrow platform lifts him up 15 feet or so, where he perches, in a spiffy lavender blazer, pulling back a bow with no arrow in it. At this point, the arrow is really unnecessary.

rharvilla@villagevoice.com

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