Bruno Mars did something this year that no other act in the history of popular music had done — headline the Super Bowl halftime show after releasing only two albums.
Why did he get the gig so quickly? Probably because — sorry, Justin Timberlake — Mars is quite simply the best all-around male arena-concert performer since Prince.
Here are the ways that Mars, 28, demonstrated that Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, where he brought his Moonshine Jungle Tour for the second time in 11 months.
• Mars sings like an aviary of different birds. He’s a romantic crooner, a rocker, a doo-wop harmonizer and high tenor, a soul man — you name it.
• He’s got the jittery energy of Michael Jackson, the cool swag of Prince and the unstoppable showmanship of James Brown.
• And he’s got more different dance moves than you’ll see on a season of “Dancing with the Stars.” He can swivel his hips like Elvis, lock and pop like Jacko, slip and slide like JB, dance in step with his bandmates like the Temptations and just let his body flow to the music without any choreography.
• Mars’ show is about the songbook, not the spectacle. To be sure, there were laser lights, the occasional giant video screen, flamethrowers and mid-song explosions, but those special effects didn’t dominate or even detract from his performance.
• Under his leadership, Mars’ band, the Hooligans, are rare musicians who can dance and play instruments — often at the same time. Their ensemble dancing was as impressive as their instrumental work.
• Mars is a pretty serious musician himself, as he demonstrated on turns on the guitar and drums. His guitar solo on “Money” was pure Chuck Berry in overdrive.
• Mars’ music is retro and contemporary at the same time — and strikingly eclectic. In the first few selections, he ran the gamut from reggae to pop balladry to Earth, Wind & Fire-like horns-and-harmony R&B to classic rock ‘n’ soul.
• Mars, who is Filipino and Latino, probably draws the most diverse audience in popular music today. The 15,000-plus fans included teeny boppers, baby boomers (many with their kids), new millennials, dance club denizens, Latinos, Filipinos, Asians, Africans, African-Americans — just about everybody but indie-rock hipsters. But the baby boomer owner of First Avenue was there with his wife.
• Like James Brown, Mars is a sweat machine. He works hard for his money even if him singing Barrett Strong’s vintage “Money” and his own collaboration with Travie McCoy, “Billionaire,” seem ironic now that he’s made it so big.
• Saturday’s 95-minute performance seemed looser and more exciting than Mars’ show at the X last July. Maybe partly because the audience was more hyped and partly because the star was wearing a white hat, making it easier to spot him amid the musicians with black hats or dark hair.
In sum, Mars came across like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame all rolled into a short, compact body dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, tuxedo pants, a straw hat, loafers — and no socks.