By Erin J. Walters
Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 15, 2014
Before launching into his 20th and final song, Pitbull instructed the crowd Friday night. "I want everybody here tonight to give me" — and he paused for emphasis between each word — "every! … thing! … they’ve! … got!"
Note to Pitbull: Too late.
From the moment the Cuban-American rapper walked on stage at ACL Live for the iTunes Festival, every single person in the Moody Theater — from fans to backing band to dancers to lighting technicians to Pitbull himself — seemed to be giving their all and then some. The show was a master class in nonstop energy.
Wearing his standard black suit and backed by two drummers, two keyboard players, a DJ, bassist, guitarist, with some occasional saxophone thrown in for good measure, Pitbull kicked off the show with Zumba favorite "Hey Baby (Drop It To The Floor)" and an exuberant dance party began. For about 75 minutes, the jams kept coming—"Bon Bon," "I Know You Want Me," "On the Floor," "Timber," "Sube Las Manos Pa’ Arriba," "Danza Kuduro," "Feel This Moment," "Everything Tonight," and so on.
Since almost all Pitbull hits are collaborations with other pop stars, a giant screen played music video clips when it was someone else’s turn to sing, including J. Lo, Shakira, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Ne-Yo, and Usher. Pitbull even led into big hit "No Pare La Fiesta (Don’t Stop the Party)" with clips of the Beastie Boys’ "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" and Black Sabbath’s "Crazy Train."
From start to finish, the crowd was on its feet, dancing salsa, hands in the air, friends strutting back and forth in the aisles, men barking their approval at Pitbull between songs. The mood was one of celebration and gratitude, with Pitbull repeatedly thanking his fans and collaborators for turning the Miami native from "Mr. 305 to Mr. Worldwide."
Yes, there were times when the songs called for little more than one short verse or some "Hey!"s from the headliner, but you’d never know it from his command of the stage. Pitbull jumped up and down, played air guitar, danced with his five backing dancers/vocalists (from Pussycat Dolls reboot G.R.L.), shimmied with the bassist, and flashed his trademark smile-meets-smirk. His love for the crowd and for playing during South By Southwest seemed completely genuine.
"Without you, there’s no Pitbull, there’s no movement," he said during the ending ovation. He added his Spanish catchphrase, "Dale!"
Connecting to the diverse but heavily Hispanic crowd, Pitbull spoke in English and Spanish, eliciting cheers with a long list of Latin American countries before pausing and hollering, "MEXICOOOOOO!" to theater-filling screams. Then he declared, "We are representing the beautiful country of the United States of America!" to thunderous applause, followed by chants of "USA! USA! USA!"
Pitbull then debuted new single "We Are One." "Wave your hands side to side," he sang as a variety of national flags flew on the screen. "Show the world we are one."
Introducing special guest Austin Mahone, the headliner told the audience, "he’s young, he’s hungry, he’s a hard worker, and he’s going to be the next big thing," and Mahone showed off some decent vocal and dance chops. (Let’s hope the San Antonio teenager finds a better showcase for his talents than "Mmm Yeah," his new hit with Pitbull that, however catchy, is essentially an ode to harassing women on the street.)
Russian-German DJ and producer Zedd, who was himself joined by Lada Gaga for one surprise song, got an enthusiastic response before Pitbull’s set, playing electro-house radio hits like "Clarity" and "Sweet Nothing." Lady Gaga didn’t sing during Zedd’s set but got the crowd jumping.
As fans left at the end of the night, shouts of "Woohoo!" and "Orale!" and "That was the best show ever!" echoed through the halls at ACL Live. In the balconies, the members of the clean-up crew sang choruses of "Don’t stop the party!" to themselves, and long after the house lights had come up, a woman was heard hollering, "Thank you, Pitbull!" into the empty theater.