Review: Aventura Sighs Goodbye, as Women Squeal


A review by Jon Pareles for The New York Times.

A high-voiced heartthrob and songwriter leads his band to Top 10 albums and arenas, goes solo and headlines his own stadium shows. Then he rejoins his former bandmates for a final set of performances together. It’s the story of Michael Jackson and the Jacksons. It’s also the story of Romeo Santos and Aventura, a band formed in the Bronx in the 1990s that brought bachata, music from the Dominican Republic, to listeners worldwide.

The group disbanded amicably in 2011; Mr. Santos regrouped Aventura during one of his consecutive sold-out concerts at Yankee Stadium in 2014. Romeo Santos and Henry Santos, Aventura’s singers, are cousins; Lenny Santos and Max Santos, the guitarist and bassist, are brothers but not related to the singers. Instead of touring worldwide, Aventura is playing 20 farewell shows this month at the 3,300-seat United Palace Theater in Washington Heights, the Dominican-American neighborhood that was an early Aventura stronghold. The run started on Thursday night and continues through Feb. 29.

Aventura’s music drew on a longtime tradition. Bachata is a rural Dominican style centered on staccato guitar syncopations and tales of woe. Using boy-band charm as well as crossover touches in the music, Aventura and Mr. Santos, on his solo albums in 2012 and 2014, became the best-selling acts in 21st-century Latin pop.

Aventura didn’t change bachata beyond recognition, but it added considerable New York City outreach. Its arrangements punched up the bass — sometimes with funky thumb-popping — and gave Romeo Santos space to use the vocal quavers and turns of current R&B.

Now and then, and in a segment of Thursday’s concert, Aventura switched from the lilt of bachata to keyboard-centered pop-R&B ballads; it also dipped into Puerto Rican reggaetón and the speedy merengue that dominated Dominican music in the 1990s. It’s an American band, rooted in immigrant music yet approachable from many directions. When Romeo Santos bantered with the United Palace audience, he switched frequently between English and Spanish.

Playing the farewell shows in a theater — not an arena or stadium — honors the intimacy of Aventura’s music, with Romeo Santos’s sweetly imploring voice at its center. The concert’s flashiest moments had Lenny and Max Santos stepping forward, notching up the volume and speeding up just a bit, revealing the intricacy of their parts. Yet for all its popularity, Aventura never takes on arena bombast; its bachata keeps a gentle touch.

In many Aventura songs — including its career-making 2002 hit and concert finale, “Obsesión” — the singer is a man in love with a woman he doesn’t have. He’s lost her; she can’t stay with him; she’s attached to someone else; she’s marrying someone else. And in his suavely tender falsetto, Romeo Santos tells her how desirable she is, how jealous he is and how he can’t live without her.

On Thursday night, very few songs glanced at tough circumstances beyond romance — “No Lo Perdona Dios,” a post-abortion recrimination, and“Amor de Madre,” about a single mother’s sacrifices for her criminal son — but love songs filled nearly the entire concert.

Despite the humble importuning of his lyrics, Romeo Santos was all smiling confidence and easy flirtation, rolling his hips to waves of squeals; Henry Santos, who took over for brief stretches during Romeo’s wardrobe changes, was just as suave. Joining them, from start to finish, were the high voices of the women in the audience who knew every word and savored every endearment.

Romeo Santos mischievously polled the audience. “Where are the men tonight?” he asked in Spanish, and got a brief group shout in return. “Where are the women tonight?” he continued, and got a sustained scream that was twice as loud. “They always gonna win,” he counseled. “Don’t go against them. Join them.”

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