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Originally published March 11, 2011 at 12:14 PM | Page modified March 11, 2011 at 3:20 PM

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Colombian superstar Juanes kicks off world tour in Seattle

Colombian superstar Juanes drew an adoring, Spanish-speaking crowd with roots from Ecuador to Puerto Rico to Seattle's WaMu Theater Thursday, March 10, on the first stop of his world tour.

Seattle Times arts writer

On the Internet

Juanes: juanes.net

Concert Review |

It's not clear why Colombian superstar Juanes, who has earned 17 Latin Grammy Awards and sold more than 15 million albums, chose to kick off his world tour Thursday in Seattle.

But an adoring, Spanish-speaking crowd with roots from Ecuador to Puerto Rico, and conspicuously peppered with swooning claques of young women in their 20s and 30s, nearly filled the 4,700 seats of WaMu Theater to hail his decision — and sing lustily along.

Wearing black skinny jeans and a black T-shirt with gray vest, the strikingly handsome, fit 38-year-old crooner belted out song after song in a husky baritone, occasionally ditching his guitar to roam the stage, athletically wooing fans, arena-rock style.

It was an inspirational evening with a warm, communal vibe that featured more than an hour-and-a-half of music played by a crackerjack band, and an all-enveloping, high-tech light show with hot colors and pre-Columbian imagery that ballooned, split, exploded and crumbled to the hard beat of music.

Juanes — born Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez — is a sort of South American Bruce Springsteen, whose muscular sound is composed of driving bass, 8-on-the-floor beats, a wall of dense rhythm guitars and searing, blues-inflected lead licks — often played by him. Like Springsteen, Juanes invests many of his songs with an earnest sense of hope and moral fervor — particularly for world peace.

What makes Juanes an original, however, is how he draws on skipping Colombian folkloric rhythms, such as cumbia and accordion-based vallenato. His music Thursday was most engaging when these beats leavened the band's fierce rock energy. It was impossible to stand still.

Case in point: the opener, Juanes' most recent hit single, the infectiously twangy "Yerbatero," from his new album, "P.A.R.C.E." (Universal), in which he took on the persona of a rain-forest herbalist shouting out the benefits of various cures. Ditto for the slinky, reggae-inflected "La Camisa Negra" ("The Black Shirt"), the plaint of a lover so spurned by a she-devil (cheesy strippers appeared on the video) he goes into mourning.

Juanes also caressed ballads with tenderness and conviction. The crowd sprang to accompany him on the swaying "Fotografia," which he recorded with Nelly Furtado. He followed it with another gorgeous song of love lost (a specialty, it seems), "Nada."

The singer shaped his set well, rising to a climax with the clipped, scissored energy of "Regalito" and the hard burn of "Me Enamora." The crowd brought him back for a four-song encore.

"We weren't expecting so many people," he remarked, obviously pleased.

It's likely more Latino stars of his caliber will start putting Seattle on their tour schedules. The U.S. Census shows Hispanics were the fastest-growing group in Washington in the past decade, with the population now representing 11.2 percent of the state's 6,724,540 total.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com. Seattle Times staffer Agnes Torres Al-Shibibi contributed to this report.

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