If you weren’t at KeyBank Center last night, someone you know was, and they won’t shut up about it.
Thank Bruno Mars and his 24K Magic World Tour for that. It was a ridiculously impressive show that I’m not sure anyone in attendance was prepared for.
The explosive show combined everything wholesome about a 1960s variety show, youthful about a 1990s MTV Video Music Awards, and cutting-edge about a 21st-century arena spectacular.
Fireworks usually saved for a finale went off only two songs in. They weren’t the most impressive element, however. Just the cherries on top of a big sundae.
It was the tightest production I’ve ever encountered in a pop concert. Even in its humble stage design – which held Mars and a band of eight singing, dancing, brass-playing men like figurines in a well-lit diorama, without floating side stages or elaborate moving parts – it was decadent and rich. A back wall and ceiling of colored lights evoked classic TV performances that would put the spotlight on the talent and not on distractions. Everything about Mars’ act was about human touch and talent.
He’s not just another pop star. He is a capital-P Performer, a mythical combination of Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Run D.M.C., Earth, Wind and Fire, and James Brown. Which is to say, a consummate professional who’s done his homework and who might have been born with the impossible DNA to entertain flawlessly.
He’s also been at this since he was a little guy, performing as a boy in his family’s band in Hawaii. The hard work, which is very much still in progress, is paying off.
That much is crystal clear on stage. The show is razor sharp and obviously rehearsed to the detail. His backup posse moved as one and still with lots of individuality. Had Mars fallen ill, any one of them could have stood in and entertained with merit. Their musicianship and fancy footwork doesn’t get any more convincing.
Mars played almost the entirety of last year’s “24K Magic” and every previous hit off of “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” and “Unorthodox Jukebox“ – easily half of the set. If you didn’t know much of his newer material, it might not have mattered. It’s a cohesive, if occasionally redundant, collection.
Regardless, it’s all good stuff.
“Finesse” kicked off the set without much fanfare, until it ended and a band member announced that it was only the warm-up. The second song, “24k Magic,” was the true opener. Cue those fireworks and descending neon “XXIV.” With these two, he opened for himself. Nice touch.
“Straight Up & Down” brought down the lights for a smooth, blue power ballad that felt right for a prom dance floor. A sweet and romantic moment, with swirling hips and corny pickup lines. It’s hard to think he’s not being funny about this level of game. “Versace On the Floor” answered with a mature version that was classic ‘90s R&B, a modern classic in the vein of Boyz II Men. A brassy, lovely “Marry Me” would have reminded lots of couples of their wedding night. “When I Was Your Man” cooed like an adult lullaby, center stage and solo.
This is how you do it.
Practice hard, show up prepared to have fun, and use every drop of talent in your body to put on the best show imaginable. A job very well done. Too many of Mars’ contemporaries – rhymes with Dustin Fiever – could learn a few things from this guy.
So could Dua Lipa, who opened the evening with an eclectic and beat-heavy set of dance tracks that still fell flat. Her eponymous debut album is sleek and shiny, and has all the beats it’s supposed to. But freshman stage nerves and unconvincing messages meant to intimidate ex-lovers just don’t land from a youthful 22-year-old who flips her hair every three seconds. Posh and Sporty Spice in one.
Lipa has time to mature to her headliner’s level of craft, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that she will.
As Mars makes abundantly, effortlessly clear, the bar has been raised. Just ask your friend.
Bruno Mars with Dua Lipa
Wednesday night in KeyBank Center