Review: Bruno Mars at Blaisdell Arena
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.org
No one can say that Bruno Mars doesn’t have an impeccable sense of musical history. Bruno broke into show business more than two decades ago as “the world’s youngest Elvis,” and so there was a definite sense of deja vu in the Blaisdell Arena last night as he opened his sold-out homecoming show with “Also sprach Zarathustra,” the same theme music Elvis used to open his “Aloha From Hawaii” concert in the Arena in 1973.
Bruno needed no emcee’s announcement to get things started with an iconic opening like that. He appeared from the back of the multi-level stage accompanied by his five-man band — four musicians and a singer/MC — put in some time playing the drums, and then stepped on up front and center. The 80-minute performance included all but one of the songs from his “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” album, two of his biggest hits for other artists, and several impressive demonstrations of his stature as a timeless multi-generational entertainer.
Watching him work the stage, connecting with an all-ages audience and playing several instruments along the way, there was no question that over and above his vocal talents Bruno is a phenomenal showman.
Seen from a distance, playing a guitar and leading a group of sharp-dressed men wearing matching black slacks and blue jackets, Bruno could have been one of the “A list” teen idols of the late-50s or early 60s. On several numbers he applied doo-wop vocal styles to contemporary up-to-the-minute music. On one he slipped in just a touch of one of James Brown’s classic dance routines.
Much later in the show he got on keyboards to share a beautiful reworking of “Runaway” — not the song he has up on YouTube, but Del Shannon’s early ’60s hit redone as smooth romantic pop. He should include it on his next album.
Bruno gave the kids in the house another lesson in musical history when he introduced “Billionaire,” his double-platinum collaboration with Travie McCoy, with “the song that inspired it” — Barrett Strong’s unforgettable 1960-vintage hit, “Money (That’s What I Want).” Anyone who still thinks Bruno Mars only does soft love songs obviously hasn’t heard all the songs on the album — “Runaway Baby,” for example — but last night’s concert-stage renditions of “Money” and “Billie Jean” showed that he can R-O-C-K as well.
The songs from the album were what Bruno’s young core constituency was there to hear, and didn’t disappoint them. They screamed when he sang “Our First Time” a capella, they sang along on cue enthusiastically on “Count On Me” and “Just The Way You Are,” and they responded as one voice when band member (and Smeezingtons member) Philip Lawrence called on them to “say ho” and then gave the order “everybody scream!”
Scream they did.
Lawrence was also the catalyst in a bit that actually seemed to break Bruno up for a second. Bruno stepped away from his mike after Lawrence did the “Oh my God! This is great!” line in “The Lazy Song,” and it seemed to take him a second or two to get himself together before he stepped back to the mike and asked Lawrence to take it from the top and do it again.
Lawrence did, and Bruno appeared to momentarily lose it a second time.
“That’s him doing it on the record,” Bruno finally explained.
If Bruno’s reaction was spontaneous, it was a great moment. If not, it was still beautifully played.
The highlight number for many fans was probably “Just The Way You Are.” Bruno and the band did it as the final song of the main set.
“If you’ve got a light, put it up in the air,” Bruno said as the song was starting.
Looking down on the action from my reviewer’s seat in the higher altitudes of an upper level section located behind the stage the arena below was a sea of bobbing points of light.
For Bruno the evening was a triumphant homecoming. It was a good night for others as well. Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle kept a campaign promise to not sing at every public event he attended, but he had a great time on stage after intermission reading the proclamation designating Friday as “Bruno Mars Day” in the city. Rarely if ever has a city official done this routine duty with a better balance of respect for the honoree and audience on one hand and self-deprecating wit on the other.
It was also a triumph long coming for Bruno’s proud father, Pete “Dr. Doo Wop” Hernandez, who opened the first half of the show with his vocal group, the Love Notes — John Valentine, Felix Almestica Bonet, Mike Baker and Lucas Clemente. Some of them had worked with Bruno and his father at the Esprit Lounge 20 years ago.
Hernandez went all out for the evening. The quintet performed doo wop classics with a live band behind them and a squad of dancers joining in around them on several numbers. Valentine was featured on “Lonely Boy” — a signature song for him since the mid-80s. Almestica Bonet took the lead on some of the others.
Hernandez capped the Love Notes’ set with surprise appearances by a pair of long-time friends and professional celebrity impersonators — Gerry Moore/Little Richard and Bobby Brooks/Jackie Wilson. Moore got the crowd rocking with “Good Golly Miss Molly” and Brooks took it home with “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”
It’s been too long since Moore and Brooks have had a steady showroom gig here, and props to Hernandez for adding them to the Love Notes’ “Welcome Home, Bruno” set on Sunday.
As for Bruno and everyone who welcomed him home, it was a show to remember from the opening notes of “Also sprach Zarathustra” through his final farewells after “I’ll Remember You.”
And, it seems certain it will be the first of many sold-out shows for Bruno at the Blaisdell.