My lady and I actually scored some pretty good seats for this gig. At 10am on the dot, I logged onto ticketmaster the first day of the onsale and scooped up some first row Loge seats. It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a full-fledged “show,” an actual concert spectacle. There was the performance and then there was the show. The band put on an amazing performance, professional, exhilarating and super entertaining. And the pyro, video, light and lazer show were performances unto themselves. Bruno Mars and the Hooligans turned the Save Mart Center into one giant, glitzy blow-out. Even with all the flash and fancy production, the group was unbelievably loose and playful. There was plenty of room for improvisation, a playfulness with the audience, and they possessed what seemed like an endless supply of spontaneity. Those guys weren’t just working…yes they were working their asses off, but they were having FUN and one couldn’t deny the joy onstage and off.
The start time was scheduled for 8pm. Opener Aloe Blacc promptly began his set and he did a great job of setting the stage for Bruno. Aloe Blacc did an impressive job of engaging the audience and keeping the arena captivated. He’s a natural performer and he’s a great mixture of soul, funk, r&b and hip hop. The arena was mostly full by the time Blacc’s set began. He played to a welcoming and appreciative crowd. The rhythm section laid down a fat beat and what I found really interesting is that his drummer used a low tuned snare, making for a warm, thuddy sound reminiscent of 70s soul recordings. Think of the snare drum sound on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” In fact during his set, Blacc reminisced about soul and r&b artists from generations ago, particularly Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers. Blacc is the perfect successor to artists like that. He had the look and he definitely had the sound. Highlights for me included a rousing performance of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up.” Wow, that track came alive and I could see the smiling faces on the floor. It was like a wave, the crowd was being won over row by row. I didn’t realize this but Mike Enzinger, guitarist for INCUBUS plays the acoustic guitar parts on this song. Other songs included “I Need a Dollar,” Loving You is Killing Me” and of course the other stand out gem, “The Man.” First time I saw that music video I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Blacc’s set ended triumphantly, I’m sure he gained a ton of new fans that night. After what seemed like an extra long wait (45 minutes actually), Bruno Mars and The Hooligans took the stage to rabid applause.
Bruno easily channeled the spirit of Motown in his performance, without looking like some kind of wannabe. It was like watching a modern version of The Temptations or the Jackson 5. From the smooth and soulful vocals to the choreographed foot work, the entire group grooved, boogied and danced for 100 minutes or so. Join The Hooligans and you’ll probably lose weight and come out looking like an athlete. It was a controlled energy. I can only compare it to the onstage energy of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, only with greater style and less manic lol. Bruno Mars is an insanely talented multi-instrumentalist, playing piano, acoustic and electric guitar and even taking over some lead work during a few songs. He’s also a sick drummer, laying down an entertaining mini-solo leading into “Locked Out of Heaven.” His vocal delivery was so sweet and smooth, not a single mess-up and he made it all seem so easy, just pure fun and joy. The Hooligans are a 9 piece group including Bruno, complete with the usually combo of drums, bass, keys, guitar, as well as trumpet, trombone and what looked like a baritone sax player. Phil Lawrence served as back-up vox, trading leads with Bruno on several songs. John Fossit wowed me with a very impressive piano solo, showing off his technical wizardry and classical training. Eric Hernandez on drums provided an astonishing foundation. That back beat was perfect. The boom-cha of the bass drum and snare were so beefy, cutting and commanding. I love it when a rhythm section can shake the venue and make you feel the grooves in your chest.
It was definitely a show for the ladies. They swooned while he crooned. The group even serenaded “Danielle” in the front row, each of the group members taking turns with the mic, laying down their own version of a heart stopping R&B breakdown. Girls were fanning themselves and squealing. It was a pop and R&B audience with fans of all ages, including young kids and some older folks. The house was definitely full. I surveyed the nosebleeds and couldn’t find an empty seat in the place. The audience was captivated and filled in nicely on the sing-along sections, especially to songs like “When I Was Your Man,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Nothin On You” and “Grenade.” I don’t know if many people caught this, but the group included a section of “It Will Rain” from the Twilight Saga (shudder), attached to “If I Knew.” What tripped me out were the surprise interpolations of R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” 2Pac and Dre’s “California Love.” Very sneaky, very cool. During the extended outro to “Just the Way You Are,” I swear I could hear Phredley Brown playing the guitar riff to The Cure’s “Push,” most likely just a happy accident, but it would be bitchin’ if the part was actually inspired by Robert Smith.
It was a pretty damn good show and well worth the money. At this point Bruno only has a couple albums worth of material, and the most recent release, Unorthadox Jukebox is less than 40 minutes in length! But the group was still able to stretch out their stage time, play a great variety of songs plus some covers and it was still a generous set and fun as hell.
Money (That's What I Want) / Billionaire / I Need a Dollar
Show Me / Our First Time /California Love/ Pony /Ignition
If I Knew / It Will Rain
Nothin' on You
When I Was Your Man
Just the Way You Are
Drum Solo / Locked Out of Heaven
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