For four thumping songs, Marc Anthony had a Fresno audience singing, dancing in the aisles and eating out of the palm of his hand.
There’s only one problem. He played about a dozen songs.
My first time seeing a big-name Latin superstar in concert was enlightening, but I ultimately left the Save Mart Center Friday night frustrated.
It wasn’t from the culture shock, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit. New sights and sounds are a good thing.
It was because Anthony had his audience right where he wanted it after opening with two loud, uptempo songs that created an almost frenzied energy. My eyes counted 15 musicians in his band, but my ears would have guessed closer to 30 – horns, drums, guitar and a trio of powerful backup singers.
Scanning the arena, I noticed an older couple dancing hand-in-hand behind the floor seats during the second song. I’ve never seen that before. At a rock concert, security will ride your ass right on back to your seat if you are standing or dancing in the aisle. But this wasn’t anyone trying to get closer to the stage or crowd. It was just joy flooding down stairs.
That joy was then slowly, meticulously snuffed out by a flood of ballads. Seven – eight – I can’t even remember.
The formula for each was painfully repetitive. They start with some light acoustic guitar, strings or piano. A spotlight on Marc, who delivers great vocals. A few minutes pass, then an upswing. Yes, now we can stand back up and dance. This is grea– wait, it’s over. Time to start all over.
Maybe I was way out of my element. Wikipedia tells me Marc Anthony is known best for two things: salsa music and ballads. Perhaps the people who were dancing in the aisles but are now sitting quietly on their phones are enjoying this.
But I doubt it. I noticed other people losing interest by the seventh consecutive ballad. The guy sitting behind me – who, granted, by 10:30 p.m. was more Modelo than man – yelled “enough of this slow (expetive)!” at one point. Despite perhaps a lack of eloquence, he spoke for a lot of us.
People wanted a little more salsa with their ballads. We all want a little more salsa from time to time.
I do have to say, though, that one of the ballads was truly spectacular. It had a drum solo, a guitar solo, some crazy pink and yellow lights – everything. Anthony’s voice, strong and consistent all night, peaked halfway through this epic. He recognized the audience was singing along loudly and off-tempo and adjusted his own speed for the sake of the whole arena singing in unison.
That’s what left me shaking my head: I was right there with Anthony for the first two songs, that wonder ballad and the encore. But he simply lost the audience in between.
Some people got up to grab a beer and simply never came back. By the end of his regular set, there was more excitement and noise in-between songs – a group of thousands pleading for something to dance to – than during them.
I was also surprised that he didn’t play any of his English-language crossover songs. I wasn’t demanding he play something with lyrics I could understand, but “I Need to Know” was a top-five hit. I thought maybe it would be an encore, but no dice.
I knew very little about Marc Anthony before Friday night. I actually considered writing this review as a deadpan joke wherein I thought I was seeing Marc Antony. “Yeah, it was good – I guess. But he wasn’t in costume, and he didn’t mention Caesar or Cleopatra at all. And why was it all in Spanish? Weird.”
I learned that live Latin music can be fun even for a fish out of water who doesn’t speak the language. I reinforced my belief that the quality of musicianship in all of the acts coming through Fresno’s largest venues is so good that you can find something to like in any show.
And unfortunately, I learned that a bad set list can derail an entire concert.