By Ernest Barteldes
Summerstage at East River Park Amphitheatre
August 4, 2015
New York, NY
Playing before a filled to capacity East River Park Amphitheater, salsa legend Tito Nieves took to the stage backed by a 10-piece band and kicked the set with a high energy number that had those standing next to the stage pairing up to dance. He paused briefly to thank the audience for being there and saying he was happy to be ‘back home’ to the Lower East Side. He then followed with the English-language “I’ll Always Love You” (not to be confused with the Dolly Parton hit of the same name). He also coached the audience to scream at the top of their lungs (“for New York”) during an up-tempo number that celebrated being part of this city’s community.
Nieves then stepped back to the backing microphones as he brought his three backing vocalists to the spotlight as each sang lead in one number – something you don’t usually see with major stars. One of the tunes name-called several Latin American countries and got a screaming ovation when Puerto Rico was mentioned. When Nieves returned to the lead microphone, he briefly spoke of the various Latin clubs he performed in New York, and tricked the audience when he mentioned a place that was not a club but a popular hotel.
Nieves is regarded as “The Pavarotti of salsa”, and deservedly gets that nickname. He has great energy and a potent voice – he has great communication with his fans, and sings each number with great feeling. That is especially true with tunes that have something deeper to say – an example of this is “Fabricando Fantasias,” a mid-tempo ballad about a bitter breakup and a man’s refusal to accept the end of a love affair.
Towards the end of the set, the pace picked up and became almost relentless – Nieves had a burst of energy at this point – songs just came one after the other with no pause. At the encore he did a very up-tempo song in which he jumped and stopped the band for several fake endings that made the audience scream.
I was half hoping that Nieves would include a couple of songs from Unity (Universal Music), the Michael Jackson salsa tribute album he participated in earlier this year. That didn’t happen, but the choices were clearly crowd-pleasers for his core fans. It was a lovely evening of Latin Music in just the right atmosphere.