28 Feb 2018

REVIEW: Bruno Mars live at Spark Arena

From RNZ Music, 9:30 am on 28 February 2018

Bruno Mars has all of the finesse of the women he sings about, and the 24K Magic World Tour concert is non-stop, dazzling entertainment, but what happens when ‘nostalgia’ turns into imitation?

Bruno Mars on stage at Spark Arena

Bruno Mars on stage at Spark Arena Photo: Supplied

Bruno Mars jived, sidestepped and slid through his 90-minute set with ease, putting on an energetic display that had the crowd on their feet. The funk and soul singer's vocals were pitch perfect and he was able to keep twirling even during the songs where he had a guitar around his neck. 

It’s that showmanship that helped Mars sell out four nights at Spark Arena, setting a local record for promoter Live Nation when they went on sale eight months ago.

When the curtain rose on night one last night, an impressive stage set up was revealed, complete with hydraulic stage lifts, light-up disco flooring and pyrotechnics so loud I jumped every time they went off. The foam earplugs I had jammed in my ears were no use.

Bruno Mars on stage at Spark Arena

Bruno Mars on stage at Spark Arena Photo: Supplied

Opening with ‘Finesse’, Mars was joined on stage by The Hooligans, a seven-piece backing band that was the perfect harmonising, two-stepping accompaniment to their frontman. The way they all moved together with Mars was at times reminiscent of a West Side Story street gang and at others like the house band for James Brown, an artist Mars is frequently compared to. 

Notes of Brown were present throughout the show, as were those of Michael Jackson, The Police, Prince and Breakbot. It wouldn't hard for anyone who's listened to a classic hits radio station to identify these references in Mars’ repertoire.

Certainly, he's not been shy about the nostalgic vibe he's going for, so much so that on occasion he's been forced to credit additional songwriters after songs were initially published.

Mars played most of the songs off his 24K Magic album, ticking off ‘24K Magic’, ‘Perm’, ‘Calling All My Lovelies’ (which included a skit with a nineties brick phone) and ‘Chunky’ early in the set. 

The album’s second single ‘That’s What I Like’ received a massive response from the crowd. At the start of the show Mars had promised that it would get hot and sweaty and that he'd come “all this way to turn you on”, and judging by the screams at each of his hip thrusts, he'd achieved this by the mid-way point.

It was all a little too cheesy for me to get on board with that one. It was almost like Magic Mike XXL, except the show was called XXIVK and the dancers were wearing basketball shirts and Nike Cortez trainers…

Bruno Mars on stage at Spark Arena

Bruno Mars on stage at Spark Arena Photo: Supplied

His early sing-along hits ‘When I Was Your Man’, ‘Locked Out of Heaven’ and ‘Just the Way You Are’ rounded out the end of the set, and after a brief encore, he closed out the night with (what else?) ‘Uptown Funk’. 

Mars’ popularity is due to his well-rounded showmanship, and I would argue after seeing last night’s show that he's one of his generation’s best performers. But I would also argue that he's over-polished and although he puts on a hell of a show, his own personality gets lost amongst the nostalgic references he sticks so closely to.

But what does that matter when, with four sold-out concerts at Spark Arena, New Zealand clearly loves him just the way he is.

Bruno Mars is set to play three more shows at Auckland's Spark Arena, tonight, Friday and Saturday.

Bruno Mars on stage at Spark Arena

Bruno Mars on stage at Spark Arena Photo: Supplied

Who: Bruno Mars

What: 24K Magic Tour

Where: Auckland's Spark Arena

When: Tuesday, February 27

Set List:

24K Magic
Calling All My Lovelies
That’s What I Like
Versace on the Floor
Marry You
Runaway Baby
When I Was Your Man
Locked Out of Heaven
Just the Way You Are

Uptown Funk

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