Review: Bruno Mars at Verizon Arena | Rock Candy

Review: Bruno Mars at Verizon Arena



Well, they say you should dress for the job you want, and Bruno Mars is dressed to the nines, musically speaking, like the masters of melisma that precede him: Sly Stone, Michael Jackson, D'Angelo. No doubt because he has a preternatural gift for flirting with people from 50 yards away, the crowd of 15,806 stood for nearly an hour and a half before we collectively remembered that our ticket price included a chair to sit in. There were explosions, full cold stops, endless (and flawless) choreography, Guns N' Roses-style guitars playing in thirds together, more explosions, giant Lego-esque stage mechanisms with rotating blocks of light, champagne fountain fireworks, and several dozen synchronized pelvic thrusts for emphasis. It was loud, proud pop perfection, packaged in a clean, '90s-inspired stage design, ripe with color blocking and patterns that looked like the front cover of a Trapper Keeper.

I'm way-past-fashionably late to the Bruno Mars party, so once I got myself past being stultified by the clarity and charm of Mars' voice (and that it was powerful enough to cut short a 15,000-person hog-calling session), I could afford to marvel at his backing band, The Hooligans. In keeping with Mars' newest, titled "24K Magic," they donned jerseys and baseball caps; all of them, in solidarity, were No. 24, and managed to put down some JabbaWockeeZ-level choreography for nearly two hours like the world's tiniest and funkiest marching band, and they mostly did it while playing their instruments. John Fossitt's elegant keyboard solo brought the house down. Philip Lawrence, whose technical job title is "background vocalist" but who operates as more of a bandleader, was endlessly charismatic, and bassist Jamareo Artis' footwork could have occupied any audience members' attention singlehandedly. Also, seemingly, everybody in the band can sing, and inserted dense, Boyz II Men-ish harmonies at twists and turns; I guess if you're gonna roll with Bruno, your triple (or quadruple) threats need to be multiple and robust. If I, a Bruno Mars novice, discovered tomorrow that each of The Hooligans had their own action figurine, complete with a stylized mask and fictional superpower, I would not be surprised. And, to his credit, probably because he occupies center stage so securely himself, Mars was quick to shine the spotlight on The Hooligans when the time arose.

Speaking of those whose names weren't on the top of the bill, two nods are due: one to opener Jorja Smith, whose vocal ease blends the best bits from Andra Day and Erykah Badu; and two, to the Dancing Guy in Section 109, who managed to get the attention of the entire arena with some world-class, vigorous booty grinding ("I bet he's sober as a jaybird," the guy behind me said) and who was inexplicably escorted out by security, then back in, eliciting cheers from a crowd already gathering pre-show momentum. You're the best, Dancing Guy. Don't ever stop.

As for Mars, he's sort of a modern-day Carmen, sauntering through his set as if "That's What I Like" were a rehash of Bizet's famed "Habanera" and blending cocky swagger with a pleading, vulnerable sensuality. Evidently, he's got the vocal and physical stamina to do this nearly every night for months on end, too. What's more, he makes his aesthetic crush on Motown and old-school showmanship work for the audience; I mean, he basically sang a heart-wrenching ballad into a bedazzled cordless phone, and I bought it hook, line and sinker. Suddenly, I understood why people had been securing their seats to this spectacle since last November. I was a mere beer away from issuing a full written apology to my listening companion, who'd been patiently trying to extol Mars' many virtues to me for years. I'd been told the guy had been an Elvis impersonator since around age 4 and, after seeing him live, that made perfect sense; it's a little difficult to imagine the Honolulu native doing anything else but entertain.

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