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Live Review: Bad Bunny Gets in His Feels at San Francisco’s Chase Center

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Bad Bunny performs at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Saturday, March 2, 2024. (Michaela Vatcheva for KQED)

If I hadn’t known Bad Bunny was headlining at the Chase Center on Saturday night, I would have sworn, judging by the fans heading inside, that I was at an Eslabon Armado or Grupo Firme show. In force were thick jean jackets, cowboy hats, cowboy boots — and I’m not talking about just any boots, but botas with full embroidery and bling.

I’d never seen a ranchero aesthetic showing up so strongly for a reggaeton artist. It proved that Bad Bunny has fulfilled the promise of his latest album, Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana, by seamlessly bringing together a multiplicity of genres — banda, trap, dembow, Jersey club — with his irresistible looks and style.

A group of friends show off their hats outside the Chase Center before Bad Bunny’s concert in San Francisco on Saturday, March 2, 2024. (Michaela Vatcheva for KQED)

After an intro by a live orchestra (violins, cellos, brass and all), Benito rose from the floor on a second stage, hidden in a cloud of smoke. Opening with the somber new track “Nadie Sabe,” he leaned on the mic in a dark jacket and black Dodgers cap, with no backup dancers — just the man and the stage. (Regardless of how many chart-breaking summer anthems he cranks out year after year, El Conejo Malo keeps true to his sadboy side.)

It wasn’t until the second song, “Monaco,” that backup dancers arrived. But just like Bad Bunny, they wore simple black clothing, and kept their choreography low-key. In contrast with his previous tour, which was all about having a big, colorful summer party on the beach (oh, to be back in May 2022 and hear Un Verano Sin Ti for the first time again), the Benito on this year’s Most Wanted Tour is a whole different person: serious, mature, grounded. I’ll add mysterious, too; for much of the show, Benito kept his face obscured, at one point donning a ski mask and sunglasses.

Bad Bunny performs at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Saturday, March 2, 2024. (Michaela Vatcheva for KQED)

Most of the show was dedicated to tracks from Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana, like “Fina” and “Where She Goes.” (Unfortunately for the fans in their ranchero fits, only a snippet appeared of “un x100to,” which features Mexican regional band Grupo Frontera.) Benito’s love for trap had the spotlight, and it wasn’t until the second half of the show that he performed the perreo anthems of years past. As “La Santa” and “Me Porto Bonito” came paired with fireworks, lasers, fog machines and thousands of LED lights from necklaces distributed to fans before the show, the stage became the center of what felt like the biggest club in the world — think Coco Bongo Cancún.

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Mind you, it was still a club with showmanship. To open the second act of his set, Benito entered the stage on a horse. It was the first time I’d ever seen a reggaetonero perform with a horse, and brought me flashbacks to Joan Sebastian singing on a horse in his jaripeos. This aligns with the idea of the tour: that Benito is a lone horseman on the run, “most wanted” after breaking the law.

But I couldn’t help but ask myself: What is he on the run from? What force is threatening this man? After all, Benito is no longer the up-and-coming rookie teased by other reggaetoneros for his painted nails and earrings — Bad Bunny is the face of reggaeton now to a global audience. His market success and impact on younger artists stands on par with legends of the genre like Ivy Queen and Plan B.

Bad Bunny performs at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Saturday, March 2, 2024. (Michaela Vatcheva for KQED)

Benito, however, gave several interpretations of what it means to be “Most Wanted.” When he reached “Baticano,” he paused to talk to the audience. “Es imposible creer que este lugar se llenó con tanta gente,” he said — “It’s impossible to believe that this whole place is filled up with so many people.”

With just a few lights on stage, Benito started reflecting out loud: “Yo estoy siempre seguro que quizás muchos de ustedes aquí en esta noche están pasando por una situación sufrida, una situación un poco difícil … pero aun así vinieron aquí y dejaron los problemas afuera un poco para estar conmigo,” he said, nearly drowned out by the sound of thousands of fans cheering. “I am always sure that many of you here tonight are going through tough, difficult situations … but despite that, you came here, left your problems for a bit, to come here and be with me.”

“Yo se los agradezco mucho … ustedes también me hacen sentir mejor,” he added. “I deeply thank you … all of you make me feel better as well.”

Bad Bunny performs at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Saturday, March 2, 2024. (Michaela Vatcheva for KQED)

Important to remember is that this tour comes after Bad Bunny shared that he was “taking a break” to focus on himself at the end of 2022. In 2023, he came under scrutiny after a video went viral that showed him grabbing and tossing away a fan’s phone. And last December, he and Kendall Jenner ended their relationship — a union that was criticized by fans who felt it was “a form of cultural betrayal.” All told, 2023 was the year everyone had an opinion on everything Bad Bunny said and did.

“Most Wanted” could also represent the pressure that comes with being a global icon, when everyone, fans and haters alike, feel like they know who you are. As if to answer to this, in a clip shown on massive screens between songs, Benito’s voice intones: “Yo sé quién soy.” “I know who I am.”

An orchestra plays during Bad Bunny’s performance at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Saturday, March 2, 2024. (Michaela Vatcheva for KQED)

The fans I met loved seeing Bad Bunny fully claim himself. Karla de la Fuente came all the way from Texas to see the show with Bay Area friends, and despite being a longtime fan, she confessed that she felt a bit unsure about Benito this time around, citing the fan cell phone incident and the Kendall Jenner relationship. After the show, she said that Benito won her heart once more.

“When he spoke to the crowd that we are all going through difficult moments but can pause to be together and dance,” she said, “he struck a chord.”

A group of friends show off their boots outside Bad Bunny’s concert at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Saturday, March 2, 2024. (Michaela Vatcheva for KQED)

Regardless of whichever new genre Bad Bunny dabbles in, whether he dresses up as a ranchero one day and a tropical cyberpunk the day after, he brings a characteristic sense of vulnerability. It’s what marks his contribution to the genre: being a baddie but openly expressing his emotions, be it heartbreak, anger, joy or loneliness. The man is eternally in his feels.

“I always appreciate that aspect of him,” said Vannesa Gurrola, who came to the show from East Palo Alto, “because I’m someone who is learning to express their feelings and have always used music to try to figure that out.”

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As long as Bad Bunny keeps wearing his heart on his sleeve, fans will keep coming back.

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