Bruno Mars is a talented guy. He can sing, he’s a decent guitarist, a passably funky drummer, and a good dancer.
You’d think all of these attributes would add up to a stellar showman. But on Monday, before a sold-out First Niagara Center, Mars proved that the whole is not always greater than the sum of its parts.
All of the pieces were in place. But what was strangely missing was that single ingredient that separates a good show from a great one – magic.
Mars and his entourage made all the right moves. But the magic didn’t appear.
Monday’s gig felt like a textbook-recitation on how to put on a modern pop show. But the one thing that can’t be taught is that ephemeral glue, that otherness, that blend of sex and soul and sweetness that carries a gig of this variety. That’s something that needs to be earned, and then honed over time. You can’t just walk into it, and drape it over yourself, like a cape.
Mars wants to be Michael Jackson and Prince rolled into one, he made plain throughout Monday’s show. He’s got a long way to go before he can even think about filling either one of those artists’ shoes.
Speaking of shoes – Mars’ and his entourage appeared to be attempting to forge a new style, one where skinny jeans gather a good six inches above the ankle, there to linger, displaying bare ankle and a sock-less entry into black patent-leather shoes. One can only hope this style does not catch on. It is, as far as any semblance of “coolness” goes, an epic failure.
Ahh, but back to the music.
Mars appeared at 9:15 p.m., as a horribly tacky curtain depicting a palm tree setting better suited to a Jimmy Buffet concert was torn away, to reveal the star and his entourage eager to tear into “Moonshine.” Mars was dressed in an awful Hawaiian shirt echoing the pattern on the curtain, with a straw boater perched atop his head and the aforementioned high-waters with no socks drawing our attention toward his feet. He looked like a tourist, sans camera. Nice ankles, though.
Oh, but can he sing, and did he ever, turning “Moonshine” into a soul-pop free for all, as his entourage cavorted around him, the horn players and backing vocalists intermingling, to the point where it became difficult to discern Mars from the rest.
The tunes came fast and furious and flawless, as if they’d been rehearsed in such a fashion.
Well, duh. There was nothing left to chance here, as Mars gave us a faux 70s soul take on “Treasure,” and then grabbed a guitar and spat out the evening’s first high point – a rather rocking version of “Money (That’s What I Want)” that led into “Billionaire,” just in case we didn’t get the idea that money, well, yeah, that’s what Mars wants. And then we were off, into the first of the evening’s medleys.
“Bam Bam/Show Me/Our First Time/Pony/Ignition” suggested that Mars, had he had the inclination to start his set 20 minutes earlier, could’ve avoided the dreaded Las Vegas-style medley. Regardless, he killed it, vocally, at least, though once again, Mars made it plain that a facility for Michael Jackson-like moves and a strong, versatile voice alone will not make you Michael Jackson. For that, you need that other thing – that magic.
So, what about the crowd? Well, the people appeared to be thrilled, standing with arms aloft and hips moving throughout the show, turning the packed FNC into a meeting hall for the Bruno Mars fan club for one evening.
And that, really, is what this is all about.
It’s not really about the music, although Mars does more than most of his peers bother to do, by bringing elements of Motown, Stax, 80s pop, 70s soul, and classic R&B to bear on his unabashed pop sound; It’s not really about the fact that the set list does not change from night to night on the Mars tour; It’s not about the bare reality that everything Mars did on Monday evening at FNC has been done better, with more inventiveness, elsewhere, and often.
It’s about whether or not the people who dropped down their hard-earned cash to buy a ticket went home happy. And by all appearances at press time, they seemed to be poised to do just that.
Ahh, but those high-waters with no socks? That’s gotta go, man. C’mon, now. That’s just never gonna be cool.