A Tale of Two Concerts…

If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you might have noticed that I have an affinity for music. It really doesn’t matter what the genre is…rap, rock, country, metal, punk, you name it, I probably have an inkling about it. About the only thing that I might be a bit deficient on would be classical music, but I can listen to it an appreciate it. Thus, a couple of shows that I saw within the past month demonstrate both sides of the musical spectrum.

On June 22, my lovely wife and I headed to Amalie Arena to see the rapper Pitbull and the balladeer Enrique Iglesias entertain a packed house. When you can fill a 20,000-seat arena with no problems, you know you’ve made it. And the crowd was as diverse as you might expect for such a multi-cultural show: whites, blacks, Latinos/Latinas, young and old…everyone was there for the party. And, for their part overall, the two entertainers for the night held up their end of the deal.

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Iglesias was, for me, the surprise of the night. Considering that he had his first success back in the 1990s as a younger man, the 42-year old Iglesias was energetic and put on a great show (something that those who have been around the business for a lengthy time don’t sometimes do – that’s what they mean by “mailing it in”). There are those of you reading that might recognize the song “Hero,” which was a massive hit in 2001, but I was a bit surprised by how many of the other songs that I recognized by him. “I Like It (which also featured Pitbull prior to his massive success),” a song that was made popular on the reality show Jersey Shore, and other tunes had the crowd going over the span of his 45-minute set.

There was one moment that was extremely special, however. Bringing the mood down into a very intimate setting, Iglesias and his band slowly trod a path through the crowd to the back of the arena, where stools were arranged for the performers to sit on. From that locale, Iglesias and his band performed a couple of tunes for the entirety of the crowd, but made it special for those in the back who are often ignored during a show. It was a nice touch, especially the “troubadour” walk from the stage to the alternate stage and back.

Between shows, there was a DJ (my wife informed me that he was supposedly Pitbull’s uncle, although I am not sure on that) who performed as the roadies broke the stage. I’m not the biggest fan of watching someone work the turntables – it takes a special talent to do it, don’t get me wrong – and as such I was less than thrilled with this part of the program. It was a good time to go get refreshments, however, and it seemed that many were following my lead.

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As far as Pitbull’s performance, it wasn’t the first time I had seen him. My wife and I had attended the 2016 93.3 FLZ Jingle Ball prior to Christmas, which was headlined by Pitbull. Instead of getting a reduced show (the Jingle Ball lineup also featured Martin Garrix, Fifth Harmony, Walk the Moon, and a few others), this would be the first time seeing the Cuban-American superstar doing a whole show. Let’s just say that I wasn’t disappointed either time.

Pitbull’s music – a goulash of Cuban rhythms with pop, rap and dance stylings tossed in and usually featuring Pitbull rapping while a vocalist fills in the chorus – isn’t for everyone but, if you are someone who does enjoy this genre, then you know how good he is. He was backed by a full band and a cadre of female dancers who changed costumes at least four times by my count. But it wasn’t the accoutrements that made the show great, it was the skills of Pitbull to work the crowd.

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Whether he was using his music – and there’s a lengthy resume of hits he rolled out, including “Timber,” “Hotel Room Service,” and many others – or simply speaking to the gathering, Pitbull maintained control of the show entirely. With this said, it didn’t seem as if it were that much longer than the abbreviated show he delivered when he was performing at the Jingle Ball. It was a fun show and would do it again, to be honest, but it was kind of like cotton candy – sweet to eat but with little substance.

Less than a week later (June 28), I went to a show that was completely the other end of the spectrum. The venue was Skipper’s Smokehouse, a nice little dive with great food and an even greater repertoire of music. Imagine if you will an old tobacco shack with a stage, a restaurant that doesn’t have any air conditioning and an outdoor area looking at a bare bones stage that has a few seats but, for the most part, has its patrons standing up for a show.

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This was the venue for one of the true treasures of the music world. Alejandro Escovedo may not be a household name of the level of Pitbull or Iglesias, but he’s is one of the most respected musicians in the industry, cited by Bruce Springsteen and “Little Steven” Van Zandt as an influence. Escovedo has also been through the travails of the music industry, starting off with the punk rock band The Nuns before joining Rank & File in the early 1980s (whom Escovedo said sounded like “punk rock done by George Jones”). He went solo after leaving Rank & File and, for the past 30 years or so, has been grinding the small venues of Texas and, on this night, Florida, plying his trade.

Pat Puckett, an old friend who backed Escovedo during the 1980s, opened the night with a very bluesy set that was perfect for the surroundings and for opening for Escovedo. Puckett’s guitar work was quite good and it really seemed as if his set was too short. He is a popular performer in the Tallahassee area so, if you’re in the mood for some excellent guitar work and a solid rock & roll show, you should check out Puckett.

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Escovedo came out as a thunderstorm broke out, but you couldn’t have moved any of the roughly 600 people who were massed there from their spots. Escovedo ripped through some songs from his current CD, Burn Something Beautiful, highlighted by his performance of “Heartbeat Smile.” By the time he closed the night’s proceedings with his best-known song “Castanets” (notable as it was seen on former President George W. Bush’s iPod), the entirety of the crowd was on its feet, rocking the shack around them as the skies cleared around midnight.

One of the nicer things about these smaller shows is that the performer will more often than not come out and sign CDs and talk to those who attended the show. Escovedo did that, spending some time with my wife and talking about the Austin, TX, music scene before getting a photo with both of us. It was a great way to end the evening.

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So, which was better?

I lean more to the rock side of things, so Escovedo would get my vote. But what was remarkable about the shows was the complete 180 that each presented. From the stylish, staged, and choreographed show from Pitbull and Iglesias to the rugged, rough and ready rock & roll show presented by Puckett and Escovedo, there wasn’t a thing that they had in common except for one thing…the love of music.

If you haven’t done it in a while, I suggest you get back in the ring and give it a try. Go to a concert at your local stadium – doesn’t matter if it’s a rock show or a pop concert – and go to one of your local venues that has performers sometimes just playing for the drinks they’re quaffing. They are both the heart of the music world and, with hope, you can get something out of both experiences.

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