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Bruno Mars has seen his star rise meteorically since fans first heard him as the featured vocalist on B.o.B.’s 2010 smash “Nothing On You.” Between his guest spots and his own hit-filled two albums, it should come as no surprise that Mars was able to sell out Los Angeles’ Staples Center for two nights, but what was surprising was how capably he commanded an audience for someone still in the early stages of his career.
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Yes, Mars has been performing since he was knee-high to a pineapple plant in Hawaii, but that doesn’t mean impersonating Elvis as a four-year old will teach you how to reach to the rafters in a 15,000-seat arena.
With charm and charisma to spare, Mars took to the clean, unfettered stage on July 28 with “Moonshine,” appropriately enough for the Moonshine Jungle tour. What was clear from the first song was that he and his nine-piece band were there to entertain by all means possible: through his glorious voice, playing, dancing, joking, and breaking down any barriers that could prevent someone from having a good time. The evening played out like a really great episode of “Soul Train,” and was every bit as engaging and enjoyable.
Flanks by a horn section to his right and guitar and bassist to his left (the keyboardist and drummer were on risers behind him), Mars broke into some pretty fancy dance moves from the start, often joined in by the whole front line on choreographed steps straight out of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
That’s no surprise, given that Mars is a solid student of the pop and R&B music that has come before him. Whether it’s James Brown or Sam Cooke, he references both with a flair and ease that show he has learned well from the masters, while developing his own style. When he performed “Billionaire,” his hit with Travie McCoy, he threw in bits of “Money (That’s What I Want).” He prefaced the Cooke-like “If I Knew” by talking about the “special place in my heart” old music occupies, adding he wrote the song “to sound like the ones I heard growing up.”
In addition to Cooke, there’s a fair amount of Teddy Pendergrass in his act, especially on the seductive “Our First Time,” where each hip swivel and pelvic thrust was greeted with women screaming. If their reaction was any indication, there may be a bunch of little Brunos born nine months from last night.
Mars ran through some hits fairly faithfully, including the gorgeous piano ballad, “When I Was Your Man,” and sparkly current single, "Treasure," while others benefitted from new arrangements: “Grenade” was reborn as a propulsive rock song with Spanish-sounding horns, as opposed to a straight-ahead pop song. His Grammy-winning “Just The Way You Are” sweetly closed the main 70-minute set.
The encore opened with Mars performing an entertaining drum solo —yeah, he can play drums too—before breaking into a jubilant version of “Locked Out Of Heaven,” complete with gold glitter flying out of cannons over the audience. After acknowledging his father and sisters in the audience (his older brother is up on stage with him as the drummer), he played a mash-up of soul songs he used to play in clubs as part of “Money Make Her Smile,” before ending the night with the sexy, sultry “Gorilla” from “Unorthodox Jukebox” surround by fire plumes and flash pots. He disappeared beneath the stage, but there’s no doubt he’ll be back.
Mars' tour continues in the U.S. through Sept. 1.