Bruno Mars likes a party, whether it’s his infectious performances at various awards shows (“Get off your rich asses and let’s have some fun!” he told the crowd at the 2012 GRAMMYs) or a carefully crafted reputation for having a wide-ranging, genre-busting live show.
On Sunday night, he played arguably his biggest party yet, headlining the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks in East Rutherford, N.J.
Shedding the spectacle for the most part, Mars was all business from the start. After an opening featuring the chorus of Travie McCoy’s Bruno-featuring “Billionaire” sung by a chorus of children, hands joined and thrown up in the air (sometimes), the singer appeared behind an instrument many may not be accustomed to seeing him play: a drumset.
However, as evidenced during his GRAMMY performance with B.o.B. and Janelle Monae three years ago, Mars is actually a fairly formidable drummer — “I don’t like that Bruno Mars is a better drummer than I am,” Superchunk and The Mountain Goats’ Jon Wurster tweeted — acting as a nice pump-up moment as a precursor to the high-energy antics that followed.
First song? Why not “Locked Out of Heaven,” the first single from “Unorthdox Jukebox,” Mars’ most recent album? Donning slick suits to coordinate with the singer’s suave getup, his backing band — a flurry of horns, stringed instruments, keys and drums — pranced onstage to fill out the smaller, triangular stage setup placed around midfield on one sideline.
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The allure of Bruno Mars’ placement as a Super Bowl halftime performer stemmed predominantly from his ability to shapeshift from one type of singer to another, shedding one genre and adding another with relative ease. The same was true Sunday night, as the pop star moved seamlessly from the Police-esque bounce of “Locked Out of Heaven” to the Earth Wind & Fire-repping “Treasure,” Mars breaking out some hip-swiveling Motown moves while his band jived gleefully behind him.
“Treasure” wasn’t even completely over and done with before — boom — out rolled “Runaway Baby,” a toe-tapping staple from debut album “Doo-Wops & Hooligans.” The high-tempo, guitar- and horn-fueled number again featured Mars’ quick footwork, the band’s dark silhouettes splayed in front of a glowing white background. “A little bit softer now,” he began repeating, referencing “Shout” as the band took the volume down low before jumping back into a rollicking rendition of the tune — that is, until he changed course again, rapping the words “give it away, give it away, give it away now” as some special guests rose from below the stage.
Everyone knew the Red Hot Chili Peppers would be performing with Mars at the Super Bowl; it just wasn’t unclear whether the band would be performing its own material or merely acting as Mars’ funk soul brothers on one of his own numbers. With the utterance of “give it away,” it was suddenly clear: the pop chameleon was going to make another change, this time into early ’90s funk rock territory.
Dressed exactly as one would expect them — think a shirtless and short-wearing Anthony Kiedis, for instance — the Chili Peppers burst into “Give It Away,” Bruno and his Hooligans backing the rockers on all accounts. Kiedis and bassist Flea took center stage immediately, while guitarist Josh Klinghoffer wildly spun and leapt around the small stage — whether he was soloing or not — and Chad Smith drummed away with Mars’ drummer for a two-pronged percussive attack. It was a beautiful mess onstage, musicians weaving in and out of each other (oftentimes narrowly avoiding Klinghoffer’s high-flying antics).
But “Give It Away” wasn’t the rollicking finale of Mars’ first halftime show. Soon after, the telecast cut away to various videos of members of the military saying hello and dedicating the final song to their loved ones, while the opening lines of “Just the Way You Are” — Mars’ first solo hit — started up.
The finale was a nice, touching moment, and a definite mid-tempo breather from the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, energetic showcase that had preceded it. Mars made his way onto the field, crooning the love song while fireworks exploded in the background.
The halftime performance highlighted a particularly one-sided affair; at halftime, Seattle led Denver 22-0, the latter being the first team to be shut out in the first half of the game in 13 years.