Aren’t we lucky?
After performing nearly 200 concerts on six continents on his 24K Magic World Tour, pop superstar Bruno Mars is bringing his tour back to 13 arenas in North America before wrapping things up in November at a stadium in his hometown of Honolulu.
Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul was chosen to host one of the lucky return engagements, with Mars kicking off a two-night stand on Tuesday.
The 32-year-old juggernaut hasn’t released any new music since he triumphed for two nights at the X in August 2017. He’s still touring behind 2016’s Grammy-grabbing “24K Magic” album and its hits including “That’s What I Like” and “Finesse” featuring Cardi B.
And the conclusion is the same after witnessing his 100-minute performance on Tuesday: Is Mars a terrific talent or a superskilled mimic?
Yes, he’s both. He can sing like a bird, dance like Michael Jackson, play guitar like a Carlos Santana wannabe, lead a tight, dance-happy band and entertain with pizazz, charisma and finesse like no other talent of his generation. He is the consummate pop-music showman.
But there is nothing original about his music. Mars’ influences were as obvious Tuesday night as they were last summer.
“Finesse,” his opening number, was a tip of the hat to the new jack swing of Bobby Brown. “Versace on the Floor” was a romantic ballad in the style of New Edition. “Perm” was James Brown meets Prince. “Chunky” was a wedding of Michael Jackson vocals and a spare Prince funk arrangement. And “Marry You” was bright and buoyant like the Beach Boys until Mars strapped on a guitar, pointed to the heavens and played a guitar passage inspired by “Purple Rain.” It was the same unspoken acknowledgment of Prince that he delivered last year.
But he offered a new wrinkle this time as an encore: a dutiful reading of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” (complete with some rockin’ Mars guitar) that led into the closing celebrative “Uptown Funk,” the Grammy-winning smash that Mars has admitted is an homage to Prince and the Time. The one-two closing punch delighted the nearly 17,000 fans
Factor in the Motown-inspired choreography, the brassy horns, the harmony singing (ranging from doo-wop to sophisticated soul) and it’s easy to view Mars and his excellent seven-man band, the Hooligans, as a modern-day collusion of two classic pop/soul institutions, the Temptations and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Dressed in a different red sports-jersey top than last year, Mars did salute one of his influences of old-school soul by inviting Charlie Wilson to be his opening act. That was a change from last year when rising pop star Camila Cabello, formerly of Fifth Harmony, opened. Now, of course, she’s a big, chart-topping star of “Havana” fame and on tour with Taylor Swift.
Hitmaking rapper Cardi B was supposed to be Mars’ opening act this fall but she bowed out to be with her newborn baby. So Mars turned to Wilson, who, frankly, set a high standard for an opener.
Not only did he squeeze four dancers, two backup singers and five musicians into a small space, but he was a stylish showman with three costume changes (including a jacket and fedora lit up with blinking colors), classy choreography and still-potent-for-a-65-year-old vocals. All in 45 brisk and fun minutes.
Wilson got the party started with such funk flashbacks as “Party Train” and “Burn Rubber” from his days with the Gap Band who reigned from 1989-2000. His invigorating set included a Prince salute, “Baby, I’m a Star,” plus some of Wilson’s solo romantic balladry.
Wilson’s heroics plus Mars’ masterful performance — with its extra Purple seasoning — added up to a superior show to last year’s unassailable success. Ticket holders to Wednesday’s reprise in St. Paul will be lucky if that show measures up.