One of the most impressive things about Bruno Mars’ performance on Monday night at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center was, in fact, the list of songs that he left off the set list. The 27-year-old has been famous as a solo artist for roughly three years, and has already reached a point in his career where he can shrug off a No. 1 smash (“Nothin’ On You,” his B.o.B duet), a “Twilight” anthem (“It Will Rain”) and a fan favorite (“The Lazy Song”) in his live show, simply because his arsenal of songs is strong enough to allow the oversights. Don’t let the perfectly coiffed hair and easygoing smile fool you: as his 87-date Moonshine Jungle world tour gets underway — the Philadelphia show was the run’s second stop, after beginning in Washington D.C. on Saturday night — Mars has become a stone-cold hit machine who has rattled off a staggering amount of ubiquitous singles over the course of two albums and a few extracurricular appearances. He is an efficient, impeccable star that has thrown a bunch of timeless influences into a blender and jammed his finger down on the ‘high’ button. His sophomore album, “Unorthodox Jukebox,” confirmed that he is an enduring pop personality, while the Moonshine Jungle tour, his first headlining arena trek, may turn him into an international superstar in a way that hasn’t happened since Lady Gaga through a Monster Ball a few years ago.
As Mars’ collection of radio hits and audience size have concurrently swelled, so has his production budget, although the main tenets of his stage show are still the same as when he wanted to be a billionaire so freakin’ bad. Mars’ biggest asset as a performer has always been his ambidextrousness, and in his current stage show, the singer holds high notes, leads choreographed dances, plays electric guitar, plays acoustic guitar, plays drums, engages the crowd and even flirts with some ladies in the front row. He’s a convincing “whole package” kind of pop artist, and like an ace Pixar movie with “in” jokes for parents, he expertly caters to his older and younger demographics at his live shows. The parents get the Motown callbacks, demure sexual come-ons and an old-school R&B montage that includes Soul For Real’s “Candy Rain” and Ginuwine’s “Pony”; the kids get their favorite radio hits and a messenger that radiates positivity. And if you don’t think Mars has younger fans, just wait until the lights dim before his show — the little-girl shrieks reach decibel levels typically reserved for Justin Bieber.
The “Unorthodox Jukebox” tracks that Mars had yet to play live sounded swell. “Moonshine” kicked off the evening with animated parrots flapping their wings in slow motion on a giant screen behind Mars; “Show Me” turned into an extended reggae jam complete with red, yellow and green adorning all corners of the stage; and “Gorilla,” although an odd selection for a set closer, is clearly a favorite of Mars’, as he lost his mind while perched upon an elevated platform with pyrotechnics blasting off behind him. Mars’ band, led by his bespectacled and underrated production partner Philip Lawrence, made themselves just as crucial to the performance as the frontman by keeping the energy high and mugging for the audience at just the right moments. Everyone in the eight-piece setup appeared to be having a tremendous time as Mars zipped through instruments and zigzagged between ornately constructed dance tracks (“Runaway Love”), wrenching ballads (“When I Was Your Man”) and songs that fell somewhere in between (“Grenade”).
“We wanna see y’all moving, we wanna see y’all dancing… maybe, just maybe, put your camera phones down and get into it!” Mars commanded early in the show. It was a reasonable request — after all, Mars’ lifeblood is entertaining and keeping smiles plastered on the faces of his onlookers, and he does a better job at it than almost anyone working in music right now. His pop tracks may not possess enriching messages, but his tirelessness and dedication must be appreciated when seen in person. And appreciate it they did: when all was said and done, the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia roared with a collective dizziness usually reserved for the all-too-occasional Flyers playoff win.
Here is the set list from Bruno Mars’ June 24 performance in Philadelphia:
Money (That’s What I Want) / Billionaire
Candy Rain (cover)
Our First Time / Pony
If I Knew
When I Was Your Man
Just the Way You Are
Locked Out of Heaven