Two years ago, on his first worldwide tour, Bruno Mars played at Miami's Fillmore, an intimate setting that amplified Mars' considerable talents as a singer, instrumentalist (particularly as a guitarist) and all around dynamic performer with a convincing, tight band.
On Aug. 30, at the tail-end of the U.S. leg of his Moonshine Jungle tour, Mars returned to Miami to a sold-out AmericanAirlines Arena that embraced his grown-up self. Mars has broadened his repertoire of live chops -- incorporating dance, staging and a healthy dose of banter and theatrics -- but he's also defined his scope and place as a performer of huge, popular hits who happens to be grounded in old-school soul and funk. The end result is one of the most powerful solo touring acts in the market; an artist who blends artistry and raw talent with exceptional showmanship in a unique fashion that defies what most pop touring acts are doing now.
Accompanied by his seven-piece band, The Hooligans (helmed by henchman Phillip Lawrence), Mars took the stage to the beat of jungle drums and launched into an amped-up "Moonshine," from his new album "Unorthodox Jukebox."
And Mars is unorthodox; a solo act whose backing band is at his same level onstage, most of the time lined up single file to provide vocal harmonies (The Temptations often come to mind) and relentless energy -- horns on one side, guitar and bass and on the other -- with right-hand guy Lawrence often taking the role of crowd cheerleader.
Mars dedicated the first part of show to "Unorthodox Jukebox" ("Natalie" and "Treasure") and went all over the map from there, including a cover version of "Money (That's What I Want)" and a funk "Billionaire," set to a stunning light show that ended with the "shining lights" all on Mars as he stood on a raised platform. There were other, similar dramatic moments, including the light display that throbbed to a dancey "Marry You" (complete with disco ball), but the highlight of the show was Mars' acoustic version of "When I Was Your Man," accompanied only by piano and organ, underscoring the purity, range and emotional depth of his voice.
Yes, the subsequent high-energy version of "Grenade" and "Just the Way You Are" were killer as was the encore grand finale of "Gorilla." But Mars' true worth is in his melodies, his extraordinary voice and his capacity to connect. Even if he'd been alone onstage with nothing more than his guitar, he would have dazzled.