In the middle of Romeo Santos’s final night of his three-show run at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the anointed king of the new generation of bachata told the crowd, “Do not bring men to my concert.” This wasn’t a comment on the many instances of girlfriend-stealing and temporary lover-dom he had been espousing for most of the evening. This was about “Dudes who hate at home.” As he went on, he said in so many words that gay fans were welcome, as well as men who were there to have a good time, but that frowning boyfriends and husbands should be left scowling on the couch. “Why do you like Romeo? I can do that shit better than him!” he joked to the crowd. “No, you can’t, motherfuckers. Or else I wouldn’t be up here.”
But Santos didn’t need to pronounce his own greatness. He didn’t need a crown-adorned microphone stand to show himself as musical royalty, either. Kicking off with Formula Vol. 2 opener “Inocente,” Santos immediately proved himself as a consummate showman with a razor-sharp focus on how to balance being a bandleader and a superstar heartthrob. When he wasn’t gyrating across the stage or engaging with his band members and backup singers, he was talking to the crowd — and not just to hype them up. About every thirty minutes in the nearly three-hour set, Santos targeted someone in the first few rows of the arena and had a moment with him or her. Mostly, it was to flirt — at one point he took a woman’s cellphone to film himself and his band, only to ultimately go for a close-up on his nether regions; later, another audience member shared her beer with him — and to tease men about stealing their dates. It was the kind of closeness that was missing from last summer’s full-house doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. The relative intimacy of Barclays provided more access to Romeo’s gritty loverman stylings than the special-guest-packed celebratory marathon of those 2014 concerts.
But this is always how Santos shines: He doesn’t require visual spectacle. While he did ride through the crowd on a human forklift while taking audience requests for “clásicos,” and while two cannons of confetti covered the floor seats after the encore, the quality of his stage presence supersedes the need for pyrotechnics and gaudy accoutrements. His backdrops — primarily palatial-mansion displays replete with multiple illustrated portraits of the singer — and the gilded lions that adorn the stage are chintzy, but were almost unnoticeable as he seamlessly transitioned from crooning ballads like his hit song “Eres Mia” to hip-thrusters, like his guest appearance on Winsin y Yandel’s “Noche de Sexo,” which elicited the largest crowd response of the evening.
It is also Santos’s fan inclusiveness that made the night feel larger than just another tour date. There was the now-tropey “love for the big girl” segment, where he serenaded a woman “of a certain quality,” as he said, while he had her grab his crotch and kissed her on the cheek. And although the women of the audience were his primary focus, Santos did make sure to stick by his words about the male faction that evening. At one point, before launching into a mini-Aventura set, he asked men in the crowd how they would rate their knowledge of his work on a scale from 1 to 10. The first declared, “1,000,” but either couldn’t muster the courage to duet with Santos when called to the stage or didn’t have the chops to back himself up. Santos’s second “victim,” a young man in a red snapback called Wonder, was up to the task and ended up performing with Santos for one of the most ebullient stretches of the evening. His singing voice was gruff, but he sang as if he was living out a far-off dream, and was Santos’s best onstage foil of the night. He was even better than backup singer Luis Figueroa, whose perfect Drake pantomime during “Odio” tricked the entire crowd. A Drizzy-less night aside, there was never a lull in energy.
The only real turn-down moment — pun unintended — was when he re-emerged for his encore to sing to one final audience member sitting atop an ornamental bed. He performed a subtly carnal rendition of “Propuesta Indecente” to her as they drank from a shared chalice, cuddled, and, ultimately, retreated underneath the pink bedspread. Despite the subtle reminders that Santos is the top dog in bachata — both drum kits had “The King” emblazoned on the kick — it was the only throne he occupied the whole show. But when one tears down the walls in the House that Hov Built, Jay Z himself being the only artist who has ever performed a longer residency in the arena, it does beg that question: Is Romeo Santos the king of bachata, or the King of New York?
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