Bruno Mars can be oddly polarising. He is considered a bit too good, or too slick, to be true as a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, performer and nice guy. “The dude has gotta be a corporate creation, right?” say the haters. It didn’t help that Mars’ 2016 24K Magic won the Grammy for “Album Of The Year” over Kendrick Lamar’s uber-cred DAMN. But all that didn’t stop Melbourne from erupting into Brunomania on the first night of his blockbuster 24K Magic World Tour Aussie run (and first of four sold-out shows at Rod Laver Arena). Live, Bruno Mars WILL convert sceptics.
On this tour, Mars has scored a hot ticket support in Dua Lipa – pop’s newest star (who, in online comment forums, still annoyingly prompts questions of “Who? from Americans). Unusually, the venue was virtually full ahead of the Londoner’s slot, suggesting that she is almost too big to open. Pre-fame, Lipa had club sets here in mid-2016.
Lipa was accompanied by a lively three-piece band. The 22-year-old drew primarily from 2017’s eponymous debut – starting with ‘Hotter Than Hell’ before leading into ‘Dreams’, a Euro-dance bop (and bonus track!). Lipa performed other hits – including her breakthrough ‘Be The One’ (fans singing along), ‘Blow Your Mind (Mwah)’ (with quasi-rapping Taylor Swift should envy) and Amy Winehouse-inspired ‘IDGAF’. Yet she also flexed her Lady GaGa-esque vocals with the ballad ‘Garden’. One surprise was Lipa pulling out the EDM banger ‘Scared To Be Lonely’ – a collab with DJ Martin Garrix. The energetic star closed with – guess! – her sensational ‘New Rules’.
It’s been forever since Mars was last Down Under in 2014. The Hawaiian’s latest tour (originating a year ago this month) centres on his third album, 24K Magic – a tribute to ’90s R&B that actually recalls ’80s funk artists such as Prince, The Time and Zapp. Mars doesn’t skimp on production. Many acts floss about having the best-ever live set-up – but Mars really brings the spectacle, with a high-tech cube stage design, dazzling lights and massive pyrotechnics. Nevertheless, the backbone of Mars’ show is his band, The Hooligans – who are not only tight musicians, but also perform snappily choreographed routines (especially the horn section). And, though not inclined to off-the-cuff banter, Mars is adept at crowd interaction. There was an “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” chant during the breakdown of ‘That’s What I Like’.
The popster burst into the arena to an ecstatic audience. Mars launched confidently with (a Cardi B-less) ‘Finesse’ – segueing into 24K Magic‘s festive title-track, on which he rapped. For his third groove, Mars reached back to ‘Treasure’ – an ’80s boogie anthem from 2012’s Unorthodox Jukebox that had the punters joining in and rainbow lights sweeping over the general admission area. He then returned to 24K Magic fare. Mars staged a fun ‘Calling All My Lovelies’, donning his guitar to play very like Prince and pretending to call his various ladies on a phone. The final song from 24K Magic was ‘Versace On The Floor’ – which has gotta be the album’s highlight, being part Narada Michael Walden-mode balladry, part electro-funk, complete with sax solo. The crowd spontaneously waved their phones in the air.
In the second half of the show, Mars presented a mini ‘greatest hits’ – beginning with ‘Marry You’ from 2010’s debut, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, the musician rocking things up on guitar. ‘When I Was Your Man’ was among few ballads in the program – which, if a lil’ boring, did allow Mars to demonstrate his vocal chops. He even made The Police-like ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’ sound fresh, the performance ending with a shower of gold ticker tape. Mars dedicated his (official) closer, ‘Just The Way You Are’, to the fans. He encored with a taut rendition of 2014’s Mark Ronson pairing, ‘Uptown Funk’ – still his biggest smash.
Known in the industry to be generous, Mars cleared space for his band mates to showcase their skills – the most dazzling keyboard prodigy John Fossit, whose solo was some OMG sci-fi soundtrack shit (Mars’ brother Eric Hernandez is The Hooligans’ drummer). Mars didn’t revisit all of his past hits (dropping ‘Grenade’) but, by focussing on 24K Magic, he kept the show exciting. And, while no innovator, Mars is an authentic ol’ skool artist who delivers the kind of epic pop concert pioneered by Michael Jackson and worthy of a souvenir tour program. The ultimate takeaway? Mars now does Justin Timberlake better than Justin Timberlake.
Bruno Mars continues his Australian tour in Melbourne tonight. Catch the rest of the tour dates here.