Cultural and musical barriers were broken Saturday night at the Sprint Center as Julión Álvarez y Su Norteño Banda performed for more than 6,000 exuberant fans. Álvarez’s 22-date tour is the first time a regional Mexican music entertainer has headlined a tour of sports arenas in the United States.
Álvarez is the leading exponent of banda, a brass-based genre that’s closely related to the party-oriented polkas of artists such as Jimmy Sturr. Yet banda fans have more in common with the audience for the country music associated with Nashville. More than half the men at the Sprint Center on Saturday wore cowboy boots. Many also donned black hats in tribute to Álvarez’s distinctive fashion accessory.
Nicknamed El Rey de la Taquilla, or “the king of the box office,” Álvarez, 33, has topped Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart three times. He’s promoting his new album “Mis Idolos, Hoy Mis Amigos!!!” a project that celebrates Álvarez’s heroes and friends.
The two-and-a-half hour concert was a mix of vintage fare and Álvarez’s recent hits. Anchored by three trombones, three clarinetists and three trumpet players, the colossal Norteño Banda swung with the rambunctiousness of the Count Basie Orchestra during the frantic “Y Asi Fue” and played with the elegance of a classical symphony on the wistful “Dime.”
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Five frenetic percussionists contributed to a riotous version of “El Bombón.” An accordion was the lead instrument of “Ojos Verdes.”
An oddly dissonant reading of “Terrenal” during which Álvarez tugged at his in-ear monitors was the only selection on which he and the members of his sprawling orchestra were discombobulated. In addition to terrific sound, the first-rate production included live video projections and a blast of confetti.
Pancho Barraza, a collaborator on “Mis Idolos, Hoy Mis Amigos!!!” sang duets with Álvarez on about ten selections and took the lead on two songs. A star in his own right, Barraza may be an even better showman than the genial Álvarez. While neither is a gifted dancer, the duo gamely attempted a few synchronized steps during “Hay Amores.”
Álvarez repeatedly acknowledged various Mexican states and an image of the Mexican flag was used as a backdrop during one selection. While not a word of English was spoken on the stage, the joyous atmosphere and jubilant music eclipsed all stylistic and national boundaries.
Bill Brownlee: @happyinbag