Mars’s 90-minute set Saturday night at the ACC demonstrated the pop star’s gifted intuition for pop music.
Music, Sun., Aug. 27, 2017
Bruno Mars at the Air Canada Centre, Aug. 26, 2017
He had razzle. He had dazzle.
And on Saturday night, for the first of two hotly anticipated Air Canada Centre sell-out concerts, Bruno Mars had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand with a superlative 90-minute set that combined old-school influence with new-school originality.
Peter Gene Hernandez, a.k.a Bruno Mars, has obviously learned by osmosis from his past influences, as you didn’t have to look too far into his performance style to recognize glimpses of Motown, Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince.
Adorned in a red pin-striped jersey emblazoned by the word “Hooligans;” a “XXIV” baseball cap (in reference to his most recent album 24K Magic,) a pair of track pants and sneakers, Mars embodied all of them in his soulful singing, stellar choreography, guitar solos and unflappable confidence.
Although he is only three albums deep into what promises to be a remarkable career, Mars’ impeccable compositions have revealed a gifted intuition for pop music that embrace the finest tenets of the art form: universally catchy melodies, ridiculously hummable refrains, potent arrangements and refreshing lyrical takes on the age-old subject of love, albeit at times with a more lusty and explicit libido.
That’s the reason every R&B-scented number in the 16-song set that Mars and his stellar seven-piece paraded before the celebratory ACC crowd sounded like a Top 10 hit and visually why the whole ordeal seemed so effortless and natural.
And from the moment that Mars sashayed to the microphone with “Finesse,” much of the 24K Magic of the evening had a lot to do with that amazing band of his: sporting identical costumes, although with different coloured jerseys, the performers very much gave the impression of a “Team Bruno” approach rather than that of hired guns.
In an era where practically every entertainer trots out a well-rehearsed ensemble with sophisticated dance moves that have little visual connection with the music that’s being presented, Mars’ men kept it relatively simple, almost hailing back to the days of doo-wop, and the dancing tandem of guitarist Phredley Brown, monster bass player Jamareo Artist, trombonist Kameron Whalum and trumpeter James King added strongly to the overall visual component.
Mars also had an effective foil with singer (and his Smeezingtons writing partner) Philip Lawrence, playing the buddy/best friend role and taking up the slack for the boss when it came to spouting raps or initiating call-and-response. One really got the impression that everyone on stage were neighbourhood pals and that was one of the concert’s most intangible strengths, along with the displayed complex and disciplined musicianship.
As for the song selection, the Hawaii-born Mars – who in his first speaking break asked the rhetorical question “Are you ready to sweat with me, Toronto?” – front-loaded the show with 24K Magic selections, save for a brief Doo Wop & Hooligans detour into the funky “Treasure.”
Show highlights up to that point being a fervent “That’s What I Like” and a seductive “Versace On The Floor,” as the audience chimed in with a sing-a-long – and then it was time to bring out some of the big guns of the Bruno Mars catalogue: “Marry You,” with Mars injecting a few measures of Prince’s memorable “Purple Rain” guitar solo into the arrangement; the playfully frenetic “Runaway Baby” and the uplifting “Just The Way You Are,” every word echoed back to Mars by his adoring and engaged onlookers.
The fabulous evening was capped by “Locked Out of Heaven” and Mark Ronson’s exuberant “Uptown Funk” – and if there were any doubters of Mars’ wunderkind abilities, they were put to rest by the end of the show.
The future of pop music is in great hands. What a bunch of Hooligans.