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All you need is Juanes

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Maybe the Beatles seized on the concept first, but Juanes truly embraces the philosophy of “all you need is love.” The Latin pop star, who has dedicated himself to social activism, has adopted it as his credo, and this belief runs all through his best songs, like “A Dios Le Pido.”

It sounds deceptively simple and sentimental, and in our superficial, celebrity-saturated world, perhaps even ridiculous to the cynical. But given the tragedies Juanes experienced in his native Colombia, including the carnage of the drug wars, which led to the kidnapping and execution of friends, he didn’t easily come to this conclusion.

Considering all the amor he has poured out through his music, his humanitarian work and his life’s mission, Juanes’ most ardent fans at his Rosemont Theatre concert Wednesday night might have wondered: Chicago, where is the love? Despite great advance word for the tour, which was affirmed by a once-again stellar performance by Juanes and his excellent band, the house was only three-quarters full. That seemed especiallly surprising, since on his last two stops here, he played much larger venues, the Allstate Arena and the UIC Pavilion.

But in the world of pop music, Latin or otherwise, you’re only as big as your last hit. His most recent disc, “P.A.R.C.E.,” released in December, has yet to gain the chart momentum of his previous four releases. After peaking at No. 2, it’s No. 29 on the Billboard Latin albums list, and he doesn’t have any singles charting. Plus, in this market, he doesn’t receive the radio support relative to his importance in the Latin world. There’s something wrong when Lady Gaga and Katy Perry can claim two spots on Billboard’s Latin pop songs chart (which reflects airplay), as is now the case.

Elsewhere on this tour, Juanes sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles and American Airlines Arena in Miami (where he now lives). New York City’s Madison Square Garden, where he will perform this weekend, reportedly is near capacity. So the fair-weather fans in Chicago missed a fantastic show.

Opening with his 2010 hit “Yerbatero,” Juanes kept the focus on the music and its message, even as elaborate video projections flashed behind him and his band. Powered by as many as three guitars and three percussionists, they once again skillfully welded native Colombian rhythms (cumbia, guasca, porro) onto an alt-rock foundation. His voice retained a spiritual quality, whether lamenting a lost love, as on “La Camisa Negra,” or pleading for peace, as on “Odio Por Amor.”

Even though he’s committed to building a better world through music, he knows how to party down. His cover of Joe Arroyo’s joe-son classic “La Noche,” followed by a one-two punch of the sitar-influenced “Regalito” and the rocking “Me Enamora,” brought the concert to a euphoric close. A four-song encore reignited the high spirits.

Next up are shows — both at the Allstate Arena — by fellow Latin superstars Ricky Martin (April 19) and Luis Miguel (May 27). It’s manzanas and naranjas, and no disrespect intended to those two artists, but I’d much rather see Juanes again. Let’s hope the next time he comes through, his fans will really show him the love.

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