Pitbull / Photo: Clayton Taylor
“You’re not going to make fun of him, are you?” she asked, deadpan and with concern in her eyes.
“No,” I shot back. “Not really.”
Next at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion
Who: Jason Aldean
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9
Where: Arkansas Music Pavilion, Rogers
Cost: Starting at $40.50 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or amptickets.com
It is hard to make fun of someone who puts on a concert that is so breathlessly fast paced that literal fire shooting up from pyro units at the rear of the stage felt ancillary to the proceedings in front of them. Pitbull’s 80-minute set started with a barrage of seven songs in 30 minutes, not counting the two times he let his band play snippets of other songs (Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” if you’re curious).
During this opening blitz, the dancers around him must’ve went through three costume changes and the fog columns up front must’ve shot skyward a thousand times as three video boards showed the crowd images of sunny locals and slickly designed renderings of a hotel, which flashed up during the song “Hotel Room Service.”
And of the things we know about Pitbull which might be fodder for derision, he’s either already making fun of himself about, or so earnest about he seems impervious to critique. He led the night with a video of himself putting on his trademark sunglasses. A mid-set video that served as a backdrop to “I Feel Good” showed him in a pool surrounded by beautiful people, sticking out his tongue and flashing his famed half-winking smile. He named his current tour after that song, and it summarizes his carefree outlook. I wouldn’t consider him a great vocalist, or a great dancer. But he’s an effervescent cheerleader of his own work and the vibe around him, and that clearly has an infectious quality.
Pitbull / Photo: Clayton Taylor
(A brief aside about being infectious: The AMP’s sister venue, the Walton Arts Center, is requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for shows there during September and October, and several acts coming to the AMP, like the Counting Crows on Sept. 18, are requiring proof of vaccination for their outdoor shows. But the Pitbull concert isn’t among those mandating any such restrictions. The virus was barely mentioned during the evening, although Pitbull did thank the crowd for spending their hard-earned money on tickets during these difficult times. Opener Iggy Azalea thought maybe the audience had saved up two years’ worth of partying for Wednesday. Their attitudes may have been reflected by the audience, but I will note I saw more masks inside the venue Wednesday than I did the last time I was at a show there.)
Pitbull started the evening with “Don’t Stop the Party” and that was clearly the crowd’s mentality. Signs near the venue’s gates notified walk up customers that the lawn seats were completely sold out. The lawn was indeed packed, including a crush of people pushing against the front of the section. They did not once consider sitting down. Neither did anyone around me in the seated areas of the venue, which didn’t feel quite as congested as the lawn area.
For his captive audience, Pitbull preached a lesson of self-improvement, briefly yearning for the 1980s, when social media wasn’t omnipresent, the Notorious B.I.G. was still alive and cancel culture didn’t exist. In my estimation of the crowd, the vast majority wasn’t born until the late 1990s or even more recently, and certainly not in the 1980s. But no one seemed to care that they weren’t alive for the 1980s, or that Biggie only turned eight in 1980. (A note, in case you’re not following my math: A freshman entering college at the University of Arkansas right now would have likely been born in 2003. You’re welcome and I’m sorry.)
Iggy Azalea / Photo: Clayton Taylor
Pitbull themed the early portions of the evening, working from the start of the party to getting some “International Love” to needing some room service and then to feeling good about yourself. He dropped all such narrative threads in the second half of the show, opting instead for a series of “duets” with the pop stars he’s collaborated with. They appeared on the video boards behind him, and Pitbull sang his part. Featured in this fashion were his hits with Kesha (“Timber”), JLo (“On the Floor”), Blake Shelton (“Get Ready”) and Ne-Yo (“Give Me Everything.”) These are all major hits – well, maybe a little less than major in the case of “Get Ready” – and I was reminded how thoroughly Pitbull has inserted himself into pop music in the last two decades.
He concluded his evening by thanking the production teams and opener Iggy Azalea. I watched her set but have nothing intelligent to contribute to the discourse. I will confirm she was onstage for 35 minutes and rapped her way through her songs, ending with the mega-hit “Fancy.” It was met with considerable enthusiasm.
So was Pitbull and company, nearly all night long. I wished he would have highlighted his band a little more – they sounded really good. I also could have done with a little more acknowledgement of his backing dancers. But that might have slowed Pitbull down. Instead, he was ready to feel this moment. And so were 10,000 plus people ready to dance the night away. How do you make fun of them for that?