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 2017-04-19 - - Bruno Mars review – a full-stack entertainment storm

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Bruno Mars review – a full-stack entertainment storm

O2 Arena, London
The Uptown Funk star – pop’s most old-school song-and-dance man – is on his best behaviour as his tightly drilled musical mission hits the capital

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A foundation of rigorous musicianship … Bruno Mars in London. Photograph: Florent Dechard

Caroline Sullivan
Wednesday 19 April 2017 14.51 BST Last modified on Wednesday 19 April 2017 22.00 BST
Of pop’s current A-listers, Bruno Mars is the only one who would have been as successful in 1957 as he is in 2017. The singer/songwriter/dancer born Peter Hernandez has a skill set that finds him skimming the line between musicianly credibility and showbiz affability: try to picture Bieber or Beyoncé breezing from the Super Bowl half-time show to knocking out R&B earworms for other people to being a reliable chatshow guest – and that’s while displaying a collection of styles that runs from rock to funk to resurrected new jack swing.
On stage, it’s the same remarkable balance. For the first of four nights at the O2, the tracksuited Mars could have filled the entire set with hits, but instead picks out album tracks and lesser-known singles such as Chunky and Versace on the Floor (the monsters – Uptown Funk, Locked Out of Heaven – materialise later). He loves his shiny baubles – aptly, the current album is called 24K Magic and the tour set designer has gone wild with glittery trimmings – yet the foundation of his live offering is rigorous musicianship. One moment he’s singing from a platform displaying the Versace logo; the next, he’s wondering why fans are taking pictures rather than appreciating the music. “They’ve all got their phones out – you gonna put it on your timeline, that what it is?”

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And spare a thought for his backing band, who have the hardest job in pop. Not only must they precisely nail every trumpet parp and guitar twang, they also have to dance in formation, step-in-step with the singer. It’s not a stretch to think of James Brown’s JBs here; the footwear may have changed from polished leather to white trainers, but the sense of tightly drilled ensemble playing hasn’t.
It’s all in service to Mars’s full-stack entertainment mission. Although it’s consistently about the music, sometimes to the point of cruelty (on Runaway Baby, the lights dim so we can properly savour a bass solo), he’s also the cheeky but safe boyfriend, issuing shout-outs to “them London girls” (presumably, them Liverpool and Glasgow girls got the same treatment earlier in the tour). Horndog anthems like Gorilla and The Lazy Song are omitted, while the suitable-for-work Just the Way You Are and Marry You are very much in. He plays guitar on the latter, making for a rare moment when both his feet remain on the floor for most of a song.
Otherwise, he’s a mover, constantly a-twirl. It says something about his performance ethic that even during the formation dances he’s clearly not miming – most pop singers do while dancing. Mars, though, is made of steelier filaments. He’s an old-school showman who occasionally passes for a member of the short-shelf-life generation, though this tends to be restricted to ballads such as When I Was Your Man, when he gives it some X Factorish melismatic welly. The rest of the show comes from a wellspring of perspiration, musical education and at least a little inspiration.
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