AU ABROAD

Live Review: Bruno Mars + Miguel - Qantas Credit Union Arena (08.03.14)

Ever since that ‘Nothin on You’ hook, the world has been trained to flock to Bruno Mars’ sugary vocals like bees on honey. As such, he has become one of the most bankable pop stars in the world; this tour was a complete justification of that. Stopping in Sydney for his worldwide ‘Moonshine Jungle’ tour, the Hawaiian-born artist took any doubts some may of his viability as a live performer and stomped all over them.

As an added treat, the artist who crafted the acclaimed masterpiece that is 2012’s Kaleidoscope Dream - Miguel - was picked up as support for Mars’ Australian shows, speaking highly to the concert’s excellent value.

While the love I have for this man’s work cannot be overstated, Miguel didn’t quite put on a performance worthy of his unquestionable talent. The 28-year-old singer seemed incapable of standing still, coming across as much too overexcited to maintain the composure and warmth of tracks like ‘The Thrill’ and ‘Adorn’; the set’s opening and closing tracks, respectively.

Unable to strike that necessary balance between singing and dancing, many of Miguel’s moves – while effortless and smooth – seemed excessive and unnecessary.

His talented band had timing down to an art, weaving tracks like ‘Simon Says’ (by Pharoahe Monch) and ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ (by Kendrick Lamar) into the sultry ‘How Many Drinks’ for an effective live translation of the Kaleidoscope Dream single; outstanding even if it seemed rather lost on a fairly unaware crowd.

Not all the live translations worked though; it seemed Miguel and his band were too concerned with morphing all of the songs into arena-worthy rock-R&B blends; this only worked half the time. On times where the style didn’t work, otherwise brilliant tracks like ‘Sure Thing’ sounded much too different from their recorded version to be completely satisfying.

However, the style did work on the surprising inclusion of the short-but-sweet ‘Pussy Is Mine’ which was touched-up with an electric guitar for a hard-hitting riff similar to the acoustic studio version. Perhaps the song wasn’t appropriate at an all-ages Bruno Mars concert - with more than a few concerned parents looking on with disapproving scowls.

Trying to do too much at once in order to keep up with the pressure of putting an arena show makes Miguel’s shortcomings understandable; even though we are talking about a man who, as mentioned before, has a masterpiece under his belt; it seems holding him to a higher standard just isn’t justified yet.

Faring much better live, Bruno Mars put on an incredibly tight performance that both seemed natural and highly refined.

A solid gold jungle scene was painted across the curtains which covered the stage; dropping only when the tribal drumming kicked in and Bruno appeared in all his glory, exploding into the funky ‘Moonshine’ before gliding straight into ‘Natalie.’

All performances were accompanied with playful synchronised dancing - Bruno, his three-piece brass section, and his guitarists all huddling together like a ragtag group of street performers, busting out a wop here, and a humpty dance there. Watching them was sheer joy, as they knew exactly how to spread the feel-good around the entire arena; hyping the crowd up like seasoned performers and doing so with impeccable timing.

As he drew the crowd close for a busker-esque rendition of ‘Billionaire,’ Bruno laced the Gym Class Heroes track with covers of ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ and ‘I Need a Dollar,’ the latter being sung by one of his bandmates. An early highlight and a seamless change of style from his first three electrifying performances.

Not as offensive to the all-ages crowd as Miguel’s excessive, gyrating moves, Bruno slowed things down by thrusting all through ‘Show Me,’ blending it with ‘Our First Time’ as well as choice reggae cuts like ‘Bam Bam’ (by Sister Nancy) and ‘Flex’ (by Mad Cobra). In addition, short and sweet covers of Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’, Lloyd’s ‘Secret Admirer’, and R Kelly’s ‘Ignition (Remix)’ were all interpolated into the extended slow jam. Rather than full covers, Mars cleverly draws upon a line or two from other classics to beef up his own songs; a very effective way of translating his songs without chopping them into something completely different.

After a pleasant acoustic cover of ‘Let It Please Be You’ by The Desires - a song Bruno told the crowd he grew up listening to – mega hit ‘Marry You’ was given a nice makeover with chiming wedding bells pairing well with the big-beat translation; one of the guitarists even snuck in a cheeky ode to ‘Purple Rain’.

The band's knack for transforming even the least remarkable songs into some of the night's highlights was inspiring; and they would do so with an infectious sense of adventure. Whether it was the two-stepping simplicity of ‘Young Girls,’ which progressed into a small cover of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ by Cyndi Lauper, or the extended dance of ‘Runaway Girls,’ Bruno and his band gave fans a consistently grand set.

The heart-wrenching 'When I Was Your Man' was given a sombre performance, backed only by an excellent pianist who held back while Mars' showcased his pleasant vocal range. A fitting and classy translation for the endearing ballad.

A brilliant piano solo introduced the first encore of ‘Grenade’ and ‘Just the Way You Are,’ the latter playing on the anthemic hook to make the crowds’ spirits soar via a massive sing-a-long. Though it was the second encore of ‘Locked out of Heaven’ that appropriately dazzled more so than anything before it.

The funkafied hit was preceded with a show-stopping drum solo by Bruno Mars himself, working in some James Brown and a wobbly vocal sample that paved the way for the opening notes of ‘Locked out of Heaven.’ A massive stream of solid gold glitter rained down on the crowd as wall-to-wall rapture was delivered to us via the larger-than-life hook, complete with break downs and his main guitarist’s second sly cover of ‘Purple Rain’. It was a scene that played as an absolute testament to the dominance of Bruno Mars, and a fitting end to a superb, graceful performance by one of pop's very best.

Miguel Set List:

The Thrill
Sure Thing
How Many Drinks
All I Want Is You
Power Trip
Pussy Is Mine
Beautiful
Adorn

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Bruno Mars Set List

Moonshine
Natalie
Treasure
Money (That’s What I Want)/Billionaire/I Need a Dollar
Show Me/Our First Time (with Sister Nancy/Mad Cobra/Ginuwine/Lloyd/R Kelly Covers)
Let It Please Be You (The Desires Cover)
Marry You
If I Knew/Let It Rain
Runaway Baby
Young Girls
When I Was Your Man
Encore (Piano Solo)
Grenade
Just the Way You Are
Encore 2:
Bruno Drums Solo
Locked Out of Heaven

Photo Credit: Glenn Pokorny of PK Productions.

Remaining Australian/NZ Tour Dates

March 10 - Sydney
Allphones Arena

March 11 - Sydney
Allphones Arena

March 13 - Brisbane
Brisbane Entertainment Centre

March 15 - Auckland
Vector Arena

March 16 - Auckland
Vector Arena

Any remaining tickets can be purchased HERE