After a nearly eight-year absence, and then followed by an eight-month postponement from her original January date, Colombian pop superstar Shakira finally sated Montreal’s longstanding need for hits and hips at the Bell Centre Wednesday night.
Not that Montreal has lacked in big name Spanish-language artists coming to town this year: Shakira joins Romeo Santos and Luis Miguel as Latin Bell Centre headliners in 2018, and current reggaeton it-boy Bad Bunny will be in town Friday at Olympia.
The 41-year-old had to move the previous show date of Jan 19 on her El Dorado World Tour to rest her vocal cords, but if any of the 13,415 in attendance were worried about her singing, those concerns were quickly and convincingly extinguished.
“A few months ago I thought I’d never sing again,” she told the audience after digging into her two-decade-plus back catalogue for angsty alt-rocker Si Te Vas from 1998’s Dónde Están los Ladrones? “Thank you for giving me the joy of singing for you.”
Shakira was a true polyglot on the night, alternating between her English and Spanish language hits while bantering with the crowd in fluent French. And just for good measure, she also veered slightly off tour script by tacking on an acoustic version of Francis Cabrel’s Je L’aime A Mourir, with French and Spanish lyrics. Not a total shocker, mind you: it’s on her Live from Paris album.
In the same way the singer switched languages without pause, Shakira freely jumped from her ’90s rock ballads to her more immediately recognizable pop singles. The set may have lacked in continuity at times as overdubs filled in the blanks her versatile backing band couldn’t on their own, but any pop singer with songs dating back a few decades will invariably find themselves in a similar position. Some updates worked, like the reggae dub mix of Can’t Remember to Forget You, while the trap hi-hats on Underneath Your Clothes robbed the ballad of its innocent charms.
And some songs were waves of cacophonous joy. Shakira inexplicably has not one, but two World Cup soccer anthems, and here she mashed La La La for Brazil 2014 and Waka Waka from South Africa 2010 into one extended EDM party medley that succeeded in getting people to stand and cheer like it was a sporting event, but wore out its welcome musically before the end.
Hips Don’t Lie, her 2006 duet with Fugee Wyclef Jean, was an indecipherable explosion of canned horns and thunderous drums. The song has become something of a modus operandi for Shakira, and live there are almost too many layers being condensed into a palatable tune. Nevertheless, Hips Don’t Lie is noisy fun, and the ideal penultimate track to ensure people left with a desire to gyrate on the walk home.
Another section of songs during the set that perhaps better showcased her range started with the singer in full power ballad mode, standing towards a tornado backdrop on Tú, also from Dónde Están los Ladrones? That was followed by Amarillo from her latest album El Dorado, which sounded like a composite of a few Fleetwood Mac songs.
It also wouldn’t be a Shakira show in 2018, or a Latin pop show in general, without at least some reggaeton dabbling. Undoubtedly one of the most dominant forms of pop music today, Shakira and fellow late-’90s Latin pop survivor Enrique Iglesias both used their most recent Montreal shows to test drive songs they’ve done alongside some of reggaeton’s biggest hitmakers. In Shakira’s case, she played Perro Fiel from her latest album with current hitmaker Nicky Jam, who guested via on-screen recording. She did a similar thing by singing with a recording of Colombian star Carlos Vives on concert closer La Bicicleta, and while depending on recordings for a live performance could’ve gone awkwardly, Shakira made it work.
Media photographers were not allowed at Wednesday’s show.