It's quite an expedition getting to Wembley Arena by public transport. Took us more than an hour from the nearest mainline railway station. When we arrived eventually, it was quite crowded already, and the whole place seemed to be totally disorganised. Some stewards shouting at people to make sure that they enter via the blue side or the red side as appropriate (but not obvious from the tickets!), others telling us that it doesn't matter which side you get in.
Anyway. We managed to get in somehow, don't ask me which side. Got to our seats in the middle of Kinky, the Mexican latin / hard rock fusion band with very big cowboy style hats and very loud guitars. They don't seem to have song titles (or lyrics for that matter), but told us after every single piece that they're Kinky from Mexico. Very hard to forget.
We were on the main floor, maybe 15 rows away from the stage. Any closer and Kinky's bass player would have ripped our inner organs to pieces. They finished at 7:50 ish I think, followed by 3/4 hour staring at the red curtain with the golden ornaments and a huge mongoose on the left facing a cobra on the right. During which time the last empty seats disappeared. Which is quite amazing: Exactly one year ago you couldn't buy a single one of Shakira's records in this country, and now they find 13,000 people who are willing to trek to Wembley to see her. And a very mixed crowd it was. In the seats in front of me, there was a grey-haired truck driver (obviously a survivor of 70s rock) who knew the AC/DC song by heart, but didn't show signs of recognizing any of Shakira's own songs except maybe the English singles. Then his heavyweight wife who phoned a friend to share UYC and WW. Then a fake blonde, Shakira-sized Latina with her English boyfriend, early twenties. Then a gay couple, 20-ish. Generally more people over 20 than under, and more "ordinary Brits" than members of any ethnic minorities. The small gatherings of Colombians with their flags and general enthusiasm stood out as little islands of happiness from a sea of somewhat bewildered rock fans or FHM readers or I don't know what. Maybe Daily Star readers (that's a crap paper, but they take every excuse to put Shakira on the cover, guess the editor is a fan too; they sent a reporter to Barcelona to cover the tour before it came to London!). Kind of comforting to see that I wasn't the oldest. My daughter may have been among the youngest. Surprisingly few teenage girls there. Or maybe they gathered at a safer distance from the stage.
While the general lighting was on, the curtain looked slightly daft, but when the auditorium went dark and strong lights illuminated the curtain from behind, to the sounds of Guns and Roses: Welcome to the Jungle, it appeared to be alive. Then, the band began playing Ojos asi, with the shadows of the guitarists projected against the curtain, which opened slowly to reveal the scene with the band drenched in fog, and Shakira emerging from underneath the famous cobra. Somebody clever said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, so I won't attempt to describe the performance. Here is just an approximation of the program (memory fails, not sure about "Fool", if that's wrong I am missing a song, and the order may be jumbled in some places, not to mention the attribution of instruments and special features which may be wrong in some cases. ):
silvery solid-body guitar
Si te vas
Dude looks like a lady (Aerosmith cover)
Ready for the good times
Poem to a horse
"drug effect" projection of stage cameras
Albert playing acoustic piano
Un poco de amor
Reggae vocals from Albert (keyboarder)
Sahara version, belly-dancing, chandelier
The show was absolutely brilliant of course, not that I expected anything less than that. I kind of envy the people who get to see her unprepared (as in: "I got dragged along by my boyfriend/girlfriend and didn't really know what to expect"). It must be quite a shock. Most of the songs were considerably re-worked in comparison to the standard album versions, with the intention of setting free the "rock artist trapped in the body of a pop artist" (famous Shakira quote). Objection and Whenever, wherever were similar to the versions included in the bonus material of Laundry service / Washed and dried, but most of the other new arrangements I hadn't heard yet. (We desperately need a Live CD / DVD of this program!) Generally I prefer her live arrangements to the studio versions - Shakira only really comes to life when she's in front of a major crowd (compare the sterile early WW promo gigs with small TV audiences to the VMA performance of Objection!).
I thought the scenario of the show as a whole, even though it was described as " bizarre" in some papers, stuck together really well. It managed to combine the very different old and new pieces, three languages, wildly different topics and special effects to a surprisingly consistent whole. Well, ok, her playing the drums for 15 seconds was an expendable gimmick, but heck it must be fun, so I suspect she just did it for her own enjoyment ... I tend to play every instrument I can lay my hands on so I think I understand why she did that. As for all the fogs and fireworks, I would have been just as happy with an unplugged, no frills show, but you do need a bit of circus to keep the kids happy. And the circus bits were well orchestrated. This must be difficult to do on a different stage each time.
She introduced the band members (7 instrumentalists and 2 backup singers) by first name + instrument only (I think they would have deserved a few words more than that). But she did credit lead guitarist Tim (Mitchell) with the musical direction of the show, and she did mention that keyboarder Albert is from Cuba (while everybody else is from nowhere, presumably US ?).
As others have noted before, the acoustics of Wembley Arena is unspeakably bad. (One look round confirms that there is nothing to guide the soundwaves in any meaningful direction, it's just a big box to play sports in.) It works ok for fast and loud rock pieces, but the soft pieces had about the sound quality of a dying cassette player. It's quite scary to think that this should be the only indoor venue of this size in London. I suggest that while they redevelop Wembley Stadium, they could knock down the Arena as well and build some place where you can actually listen to music. I'll definitely go to see this tour again when it comes back to the UK, but certainly not in Wembley. Hope she comes to a nicer venue next time.