Almost a year to the day he previously performed at the Sprint Center, ranchera singer Vicente Fernandez, one of Mexico's most beloved, popular and decorated entertainers, returned to Kansas City to say farewell.
Fernandez, 72, announced this year that he was retiring from live performing, but not recording, and was taking his catalog of more than 40 years and five dozen albums out on the road one final time as a show of gratitude to his legions of fans all over the world. On Friday night, that tour stopped again at the Sprint Center.
As it did last year, the show evoked an array of emotions from the headliner and the 9,000 or so fans in the building, who ranged in ages from 5 to 75 or older: melancholy, love, sadness and unbridled joy. He has cited some health issues as reasons for his retirement from touring, but he showed no signs of fatigue. Fernandez and his operatic voice were in herculean shape. Backed by a large mariachi orchestra, he performed for three solid hours without a break, unleashing song after song after song, like cannon fire. And nearly every one ignited a boisterous response from his audience, including at least dozen or so demonstrative and high-volume sing-alongs ("Las Llaves de Mi Alma," "Aca Entre Nos," "Volver, Volver").
All that love and energy constitutes a significant part of the thrill of a Fernandez show: watching and listening to a crowd comprising fans of three or four generations indulging without restraint in the regal persona of the king of ranchera and the rich musical heritage of Mexico.
Fernandez wore a black charro suit and a sidearm in a holster and donned several enormous and heavily embroidered sombreros throughout the set. For most of it, however, he left uncovered his head of thick, electric-white hair, a vivid contrast to his charcoal-black eyebrows and mustache.
But anyone who also attended the previous Sprint Center show (on Oct. 22, 2011) surely noticed some differences, starting with the placement of his orchestra. Instead of arrayed behind him, in charro suits and at bandstands, his band sat in a pit beneath him, arrayed in a semicircle, backs to the audience. Dressed in black, the band members were barely visible, which made their rich, brilliant music feel a bit disembodied.
The sound also could have been better. Fernandez's voice boomed through the arena most of the night, at times at too high a volume, particularly when he unleashed one of his prolonged, sky-scraping notes. Otherwise it lacked a crispness that made things sound a bit frayed at the edges.
The video display was smaller and less dynamic this time. Perhaps that's why the crowd this time seemed a bit more distracted during a few parts of the show.
Fernandez ultimately gave them all what they wanted, however. Toward the end of his marathon set, he draped the flag of Mexico over his shoulders and marched proudly about the stage, igniting an infernal fervor. He also wept as he said good night. Or farewell.
If he indeed doesn't pass this way again, he will be missed. Few other entertainers in any genre of music put on the kind of show he does. But if this show proved anything, it's that his music will surely keep being passed on from one generation to the next.
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