Review: Nicky Jam leads long, late night of reggaeton at Amalie Arena in Tampa
Want to understand the appeal of Nicky Jam, Latin pop and hip hop's unquestioned man of the moment?
Sometime after 1 a.m., an incredible six-plus hours after doors opened for his Friday night concert in Tampa, thousands of fans were still dancing in Amalie Arena, ready to start a reggaeton revival in America.
Nicky's far from a household name in America, which might explain why Amalie was less than packed, even with a late buy-one, get-one ticket push on Ticketmaster. The announced crowd for the kickoff to the second leg of his Fenix Tour was 5,494, far fewer than the number Romeo Santos drew in Tampa last summer in Amalie Arena's last big experiment in Latin pop.
And for all those who stuck it out, some left before Nicky took the stage at 11:55 p.m., nearly 90 minutes later than originally planned. Blame it on opening-night jitters if you like (there was word backstage of issues with the pyro), but that's about as late as you'll ever see an arena show go in these parts. Had it been a school night, Nicky would have a whole lot of fans cursing his name into their coffee this morning.
Then again, he’s endured a lot worse. For the unfamiliar: Boston-born to Puerto Rican and Dominican parents, Nicky Jam (real name: Nick Caminero) was a rising star in reggaeton before disappearing from the scene in the mid-2000s due to drugs, alcohol and other bad habits.
After moving to Columbia to rehab his talent and image, he launched a comeback that crested in 2015 with El Perdon, a duet with Enrique Iglesias that became one of the most dominant Latin hits in recent memory. According to the Wall Street Journal, his recent Hasta el Amanecer is 2016’s second-most-viewed music video on YouTube — right between Fifth Harmony and Zayn — with some 570 million views.
As comeback stories go, his is hard to resist. That may be why fans in Tampa were willing to tolerate his tardiness. He emerged to the come-on jam Travesuras, fans of flame shooting out from the stage without incident, followed by his remixes of Omi’s Cheerleader and Sia’s Cheap Thrills.
His take on Farruko's Sunset perfectly encapsulated his tough-guy-with-a-sensitive-soul appeal, as did the acoustic ballad Como Lo Hacia Yo. He'd let his lickety-split flow fly on harder reggaeton songs like Yo No Soy Tu Marido, but he didn't sacrifice sensitivity and sensuality on tracks like Fanatica Sensual, Ay Vamos and a show-stopping Te Busco.
And then there were the singles. Hasta el Amanecer and El Perdon both spawned predictable screams and phones shooting into the air. But El Perdon, in particular, seemed to evolve into something new there onstage, as Nicky's guitarist started strumming a ukulele, creating a holistic, island-vibe moment.
Those upbeat songs were a good way to end a long but all-too-rare night of A-list Latin pop in Tampa, which included a quickie solo set by Puerto Rican star Valentino just before Nicky Jam.
Puerto Rican duo Zion y Lennox ran the show like genial party hosts, bringing dancers and a full band for a steady set of hits, getting the crowd on their feet and dancing as plumes of smoke and flame shot from the stage. They even dropped in a mini set of their many features, including reggae-like remixes of Yandel's Encantadora and Jencarlos Canela's Baby, and J Balvin's clubby Ginza.
New York-born rapper De La Ghetto – who joined Nicky for a duet toward the end of the night – was too often drowned out by his hypeman in an unflattering sound mix. But otherwise, he energetically stomped and thrusted through hits like Sensacion Del Bloque and the sexy, slow-burning La Ocasion. Backed by killer turntablist DJ Diego Masacre, he played with rhythm and pacing on Exitandonos and Dices, and threw in Estamos Aqui, his and reggaeton partner Arcangel's Spanish take on Drake's Started From the Bottom.
Opening with a quick 15-minute set, Canadian-Guatemalan newcomer Alx Veliz did little to get the gathering crowd moving, but showed he might not be a bad futures bet. The sparse, pulsing, tropical-tinged beats of songs like Tu+Yo and Dancing Kizomba might make his countryman Justin Bieber jealous.
From the beginning of Veliz’s set to the end of Nicky Jam’s, the concert lasted some five hours, making it feel more like a festival. But that’s kind of what this moment Nicky Jam is having feels like – the big buildup to a huge coronation, like he’s finally able to headline the festival of his dreams.
Maybe that’s why he wants to keep nights like Friday going until dawn. Or at least until it feels like it.
-- Jay Cridlin