For Latin artists, especially Puerto Ricans, packing San Juan’s El Coliseo, the island’s biggest indoor venue, means you’ve made it. Ivy Queen, Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Bad Bunny’s now-legendary sold-out 3-night stand in 2019: These are just a handful of the artists within el movimiento who have graced the stage at the venue affectionately known as el Choli. A headlining show here is an accomplishment on par with — or for some, even more important than — a platinum record or any number of golden awards.
While he’s technically already played the landmark spot via virtual concert in May of last year, Rauw Alejandro can officially claim these crucial bragging rights after playing the first of four headlining shows there on Oct. 21.
Compared to the many undergarments slung onstage at his recent performances in other cities, there were significantly fewer bras and panties gifted to Rauw Alejandro at his approximately two-and-a-half-hour homecoming show at El Coliseo. But that doesn’t mean folks weren’t elated to see him finally perform in person, to feel the heat of pyrotechnics, jump at the sonic blasts of fireworks, and get immersed in trippy digital visuals with Alejandro as their hit-making host.
Fans wrapped around the building queuing up for entry until later than typical; maybe that’s because Puerto Rico’s government-mandated midnight curfew was lifted last week, and everyone seems to be reveling in the freedom to go out later, rather than starting their nights before it’s even fully dark out.
In many ways, the show felt tailored specifically to Alejandro’s hometown fans, who have been with him for much longer than the year or so since he attained global breakthrough status. One peak moment came when he threw it back to “TTI,” his 2018 remix of a De La Ghetto track. In its videos, Alejandro aims to woo a girl in Old San Juan, complete with piraguas and what was then our introduction to his organically slinky way of dancing, his moves working in concert with a conversation.
Fittingly, the choreography of a dozen dancers who accompanied Alejandro throughout the night was absolutely artful. Take the moves they brought to “Perreo Pesau’,” a midtempo cut from Afrodisíaco, Alejandro’s tribute to early-2000s reggaeton released late last year. Onstage, the culturally significant act of the perreo was parsed into pieces, with dancers separated from each other, but moving together — a surreal reflection of our at-home dancing during the pandemic. We’ve been perreando from home, mostly solo, but the choreography was a reminder that all those Zoom parties we virtually attended meant we weren’t truly alone.
More references to everything right now were embedded throughout Alejandro’s show: Kim Kardashian’s Met Gala look was reflected in the styling of head-to-toe-covered dancers wielding umbrellas. Alejandro himself wore a neck gaiter over his face, then dramatically tugged it off to reveal the smirky grin, like a winking smile with extra-white teeth, that was a constant reminder of his trademark in-the-moment gratitude. At one point, a snippet of “A Palé” was mixed in, a little easter-egg nod to his current romance with Spanish pop star Rosalía.
There was little talk between songs; this was more a theatrical rendition of a Rauw Alejandro best-of than a traditional concert back-and-forth with fans. The setlist selection was critical to establishing a different kind of conversation between artist and fan. Alejandro’s 2021 album, Vice Versa, and Afrodisíaco are two very different albums, the former being far more experimental in terms of el movimiento at large, with synth-pop infusions and even an electronic cut. But Alejandro fused the two together for a cohesive set, moving from the sway of “Algo Mágico” to the New-Wave-tinged “Desenfocao’” with ease.
Featured guests ranged from fellow Puerto Rican star Lyanno for the “Toda” remix and a take-a-seat-and-chill-inducing intermission soundtracked by several songs from Mexican pop band Reik, just after they joined Alejandro to perform their recent collab “Loquita.”
Stalwart movimiento leader Farruko, though, turned it up. His much-remixed mega-hit “Pepas” was already blasting on loop outside el Choli, so as he started up the song alongside Alejandro, it had to be everyone’s second time bopping along to the track that night — if not their third, fourth, or fifth, considering its ubiquity on Puerto Rican radio, in clubs, and in cars with drivers who like their music loud. The pair also ran through their proper collab, “Fantasías.” Alejandro wrapped Farruko’s guest spot with thanks, noting the long-established reggaetonero was one of the first to believe in his talent. Together, they led the crowd in prideful chanting: “¡Yo soy Boricua, pa’ qué tu lo sepas!”
Alejandro also called in Chencho Corleone of the pioneering reggaeton duo Plan B for their joint track, “El Efecto.” Corleone stayed a bit, delivering “Candy” and other classics — giving Alejandro, who’d had few moments when he wasn’t simultaneously singing and dancing, another brief break.
Alejandro’s energy is close to unstoppable, though. At a point where you’d think Alejandro might be low on physical gusto — it’s not an exaggeration to say his dancing was consistently nonstop — he jumped offstage and made a lap around the floor of el Choli, fans screaming as he soared past. Meanwhile, a piano was rolled onstage. Voice unaffected by the jaunt, Alejandro then sang “Aquel Nap ZzZz,” this rendition leaning more romantic than its already balladic version on Vice Versa.
As is common in el movimiento, so many of Alejandro’s songs include guests. Carrying those songs alone is something artists must do while performing live — and Alejandro nailed it, with no guest stars feeling too notably absent, at least not if gauged by crowd response. He sang right through “Tattoo,” adding a side-long smile at the second where Camila Cabello typically comes in. “Elegí” was another that Alejandro took on solo y sin problemas, even though the recorded version is stacked with Dalex, Lenny Tavarez, and Dimelo Flow. Nicky Jam wasn’t there for “Que Le Dé,” either. But that didn’t detract from the sultriness of the 2019 pairing; Alejandro, in his package-pumping dancing, exudes heaps of the “sexo salvaje” vibe all on his own.
Unsurprisingly, Alejandro saved his smash hit, the bouncy synth-pop love song, “Todo de Tí,” for last. All the tricks pulled throughout the night converged into a giant explosion topped off with confetti blasters. Thousands sang along to the single that critics have credited as his best yet. Throughout the show, Alejandro’s enthusiasm never waned, and his persistent elation was contagious. Once the lights went bright at nearly 12:30 a.m., the fans began their exit, each of us with bits of brightly-colored party paper stuck somewhere on our person, and the good feeling of having just celebrated.