Review: Bruno Mars struts his stuff at Wells Fargo Center

Bruno Mars, performings on Monday, is a cool customer and ingratiating entertainer who's strikingly facile in a number of idioms. He moves from R&B to reggae to rock with ease, and he's such a pro that he never falls into the common trap among polymaths of shifting gears before each musical idea is brought to fruition.
Bruno Mars, performings on Monday, is a cool customer and ingratiating entertainer who's strikingly facile in a number of idioms. He moves from R&B to reggae to rock with ease, and he's such a pro that he never falls into the common trap among polymaths of shifting gears before each musical idea is brought to fruition. (BRAD BARKET / Getty Images)
Posted: June 26, 2013

Bruno Mars loves us just the way we are - and he doesn't feel too bad about himself, either.

And who can blame him? The chart-topping singer-songwriter-producer's sold-out show at the Wells Fargo Center Monday night was the second date on his first tour headlining hockey arenas.

The freshness of that feeling for the 27-year-old multiracial multi-instrumentalist Hawaiian (born Peter Hernandez) was apparent in the broad grin on his face. It was shared by his fairly fabulous eight-piece band, the Hooligans - dressed, like their leader, in matching red suits.

And it came though clearly during a brief break in the action before "Runaway Baby," a song from his 2010 album Doo-Wops & Hooligans that warns potential paramours to flee "before I put a spell on you."

Mars and his bandmates took turns playfully trying out pickup lines on an ardent fan in the front row who became the object of envy in a crowd that was about 85 percent female. When it came time for Mars to show his game, he played to his strengths.

"I'm the dude on the ticket," he said. "And the one on the video screen up there."

Mars' Moonshine Jungle tour came with all the requisite bells and whistles. The staging for Mars - who penned the words "I want to be on the cover of Forbes magazine," in "Billionaire," his hit with Travie McCoy - included flashpots, confetti cannons and on-screen gorillas, black panthers and African parrots. But for all the big-time staging, the lively-stepping musicians were never in danger of being overwhelmed by effects.

During the 90-minute set - the audience stood throughout - Mars mostly sang in a sweet and supple voice. He also played guitar, memorably during a nifty medley that began with Barrett Strong's Motown oldie "Money" before moving into Aloe Blacc's "I Need a Dollar" and "Billionaire."

Before kicking off an encore with the plea for sexual gratification "Locked Out of Heaven," he took over from his brother Eric on the drum kit, laying down a rhythm that he accentuated with a mimicked arsenal of James Brown grunts and groans.

Mars' hits can tend toward the shamelessly saccharine. "Just the Way You Are," the ballad that shares a name with the Billy Joel chestnut, is Exhibit A. But on Monday night, even that crowd-pleasing trifle turned into something more satisfying as the band gathered stage center to dig into the groove while resisting the temptation to indulge in undisciplined vamping.

It's clear that Mars - who has ditched his trademark fedora and pompadour, and was introduced by vocalist Phillip Lawrence as "the man with the frizziest Afro in the band" - is a disciple of Prince and Michael Jackson. He can't dance as well as his heroes, and his pop-savvy tunes don't bring you up short with their brilliance. Not yet, anyway.

But Mars is a cool customer and an ingratiating entertainer who's strikingly facile in a number of idioms. He moves from R&B to reggae to rock with ease, and he's such a pro that he never falls into the common trap among polymaths of shifting gears before each musical idea is brought to fruition. He's one to be watched, and not underestimated.

 


Contact Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or ddeluca@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @delucadan. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at www.inquirer.com/inthemix.

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