Bruno Mars embodies the Millenial zeitgeist: flashy, impossibly nostalgic, and sidestepping substance entirely. Friday night, his live show at the Maverick Center was a thrilling pastiche, a throwback and nothing more than a damn good time.
The audience adored it.
The show began with a serviceable opening set from LA-based Fitz and the Tantrums. The sound was a tad too muddy, but vocalist Noelle Scaggs was a fireball of energy as she shimmied around comparatively tired-seeming lead Michael Fitzpatrick.
About a half-hour later, Mars and his band took to a stage shrouded in a palm tree-embroidered curtain. It was the first of several times Mars toyed with kitsch — and at this point the concert hadn’t even begun.
The screams of Mars’ mostly young, mostly female fans became deafening seconds later when the curtain dropped to reveal a decidedly retro stage. Think “American Bandstand,” or any of those other shows that were on before either I or, more significantly, Mars were born. Mars himself was dressed in a brown vest and a fedora, but not one of those narrow-brimmed, bro fedoras. This one was wide and wonderful, like something someone might wear while driving a Cadillac circa 1975. Or in a movie about someone in a Cadillac in 1975.
Mars opened with “Moonshine” from his recent album “Unorthodox Jukebox.” The stage lit up, the band swayed and the audience swooned. While Mars crooned, a video of parrots played on the screens behind the stage because, why not, parrots are rad.
The moment was characteristic of the entire show, which valued stimulation more than anything else. It was juxtaposition for juxtaposition’s sake. Parrots, disco balls, and everything else seemed to need no more justification than coolness to make it on stage.
Which isn’t a criticism, though it will probably sound like one to most people outside of Mars’ predominantly Gen Y audience. It was neither serious nor silly. It was visually sensual, dimensionally cinematic. It was post-genre.
Mars followed with “Natalie” and “Treasure,” during which delighted fans sang along for the first of many times.
Later highlights included “Billionaire,” which the audience loved, and the more low key “When I was Your Man,” which Mars described as his hardest song to sing.
My personal favorite, though, was “Grenade,” which was appropriately explosive with rapid-fire lights pummeling Mars as he sweatily wailed.
The show was also surprisingly talky. During a particularly long “R&B” breakdown, Mars and his band members practiced pickup lines on an ecstatic young woman in the front row.
Mars also offered tips in good performance. If you’re ever on stage, he recommended, just say “damn.” Mars demonstrated, the audience swooned.
Reaction to these moments probably splits along Mars partisan lines. Diehard fans seemed to love them. I felt they were a bit much and preferred just hearing Mars actually-quite-pleasant music. In any case, Mars did come across as a nice guy, which was probably the point.
The show wrapped up with the smash hit “Just the Way You Are,” followed by a funk jam and, finally, an audience-demanded encore. The encore began with Mars playing a raucous drum solo. Soon, canons fired glitter into the air above the audience. Explosions and torches ripped through space behind the band.
It was wild, it was loud, it was indulgent. To ask, “what does it mean?” is to miss the point; meaning is so much less important than having fun.