Review: Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae at 1STBANK Center, 5/31/11

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"It would have been easy to snark all over this show, but the babies were dancing to Mayer Hawthorne, and you can't hate on the babies. Babies are adorable."

So, not to get all Joe Biden on you, but apparently Bruno Mars is a big fucking deal! The charismatic singer-songwriter you either avoid or instantly forget after one of his pop songs comes on TV or the radio is doing it all wrong. Mars utilizes only a million dollar smile, catchy hooks and a great voice. He should fire his publicist immediately. Mars has no sex tape scandal, no links to Lindsay Lohan, no TMZ cameras all in his face, but he has an old school talent that is almost larger than life. Back to that in a moment.

The Hooligans in Wondaland Tour might look like a strange bill until you realize that all three featured acts are purveyors of perfect pop music. Please check your anti-pop music sentiments at the door. The pop music lovers that filled the 1STBANK Center to the brim on Sunday evening did. The Hooligans in Wondaland Tour literally brought out every stripe of person in existence. Entire families were in attendance, as were lots of college kids, high school kids, and kids, kids, kids. Like, I mean babies. It would have been easy to snark all over this show, but the babies were dancing to Mayer Hawthorne, and you can't hate on the babies. Babies are adorable.

View Bruno Mars & Janelle Monae slideshow

As for Mayer Hawthorne: he began the show promptly with a perfectly pared-down version of the setlist from his tour this past winter. Either Mayer has a great agent, he earned his slot because he lends the co-headliners some indie cred, or he's extremely lucky -- or perhaps it's a combination of all three. Mayer's retro-soul "A Strange Arrangement" is the kind of pop record that makes him a musician's musician, so it's easy to see why he is a perfect companion for two artists well known for being musician's musicians. Mayer played his position perfectly sticking to the "hits" off of his album and keeping it short. I actually overheard a little girl tell her dad, "I LIKED Mayer Hawthorne"! I don't know who was more surprised, me or her.

After a brief set change, Janelle Monae took the stage to the sounds of the "Suite II Overture." Like so many people, I immediately lauded her album The ArchAndroid and then never listened to it again. Miss Monae made me pay for my error immediately with a double whammy of "Faster" and "Locked Inside." Her backing band was so on point, the funk seemed effortless. Her background dancers -- hell, even the string section -- had their feet moving, but the 1STBANK crowd sat passively, politely. Like a Japanese audience they seemed to be only tolerating Monae -- save for a few instances of wanton MAWB-ing (that's Middle Aged White Boogieing).

View Bruno Mars & Janelle Monae slideshow

Before you can say we honor our influences the band went into a Hendrix-inspired take on "America the Beautiful." At least I think it was. There was a lot of guitar solo face, and pedal work, so all I can verify is that the dude on guitar pretended to be Hendrix, and there was an american flag on the big screen for like five minutes. Then... stage lights down, cue Krusty the Klown comeback special spotlight, it was time for Monae to do "Smile" for the umpteenth time. I respect her commitment to this song, but then again, no I don't. Every time she does "Smile," she looks less like a really important pop artist and more like a skinny black girl on "Glee."

As if she knew she'd crossed a line, the thumps of "Sincerely Jane" from the Metropolis EP brought her back to the avant garde. This swirling cocktail of doomsday prophecy, Down South bass and Greek chorus was easily some of the most compelling minutes of the evening. It's also when she totally lost the crowd. Wait, a Jackson 5 cover of "I Want You Back" almost got them chair dancing, but then "Say You'll Go," the lush ballad from the ArchAndroid fell unfortunately flat. At this point, apropos of nothing, Monae brought out a canvas and easel, and took the opportunity to paint what appeared to be a butt, on a red background, with the word "LOVE" underneath it.

She followed this with "Cold World," possibly the best song from the ArchAndroid, and the drum and bass didn't disappoint. "Tightrope" signaled the end of her set, but most remarkably, during what i'm pretty sure was "Dance or Die," she was all set up to do a stage dive but instead opted to take a victory lap through General Admission. Sadly the throng didn't want to catch the hem of her garment. Instead they captured the moment on their cellphones. Boo.

Remember that bit about Bruno Mars being a big deal? As the lights dimmed to introduce him, 1STBANK got all animated, butts out of seats, arms up in the air, screams piercing the Broomfield night. Mars, fronting a solid eight-piece band with horns and hype man included, was clearly aware of his stadium status and opened his set with his poorly received, unofficial, first single ever "The Other Side." Slick move, considering the luke warm response to this song when it first came out.

Full of stage presence, the singer implored the crowd to "maybe put your cameras down and have some fun with us tonight." The audience listened and obeyed. Even a small time fin de siècle bubbler like "The Other Side" belies Mars' gift for catchy hooks with instant recall. You would think this guy writes most of the records on the radio today -- oh yeah, he does. Mars even took a minute to perform a bad one. He shared the story that he and Travie McCoy (try and not skeeve as you say the word "Travie") were listening to "Can't Buy Me Love" by the Beatles when they came up with the lamentable "Billionaire." (I'll take 'Songs that suck way harder than their original source material' for $200 Alex!)

View Bruno Mars & Janelle Monae slideshow

The rest of the set was filled with songs from his platinum-selling (I know, I was surprised, too) seven-time, Grammy-nominated Hooligans and Doo Wops. In fact, he performed every song from that album, and you know what? Almost every song is a hit. "Marry You," which was forever immortalized by the cast of Glee, sounded anthemic and perfect for a summertime concert like this. And everybody was twisting again like they did last summer in the reserved seats and guys were dancing with each other on the floor.

Mars falls somewhere between coy young Elvis and naughty "The Girl is Mine" Michael Jackson, and the ladies were eating it up. Remember Doo Wops ballad "Talking to the Moon"? Me neither. What normally would've been a forgettable slow jam became an epic centerpiece and Mars got his lover man on to full effect. And his effortless -- and I mean, effortless -- crooning on tracks like "Grenade," Mars demonstrated that he's a bonafied triple threat, an old fashioned singing, dancing, and playing triple threat.

At this point everybody was dancing and shouting along. As I looked around, it was hard to believe these were the same kids who were sitting quietly just thirty minutes earlier. Snark be damned, Mars is the kind of artist that should be universally praised. It's evident that he works hard, has great musical influences and possesses the kind of pop music chops that could even make Cee-Lo a one hit wonder for a second time.


Personal Bias: I really had no idea that Bruno Mars was platinum, and yeah I mostly forget his pop perfection right after I hear it, preferring to struggle to "like" terrible records by bands like the Roots or Flying Lotus. I am seeing a therapist for this problem.
Random Detail: The closing song and international #1 single "Just the Way You Are" had everybody -- and I mean everybody -- smiling and dancing. Even the hard rock football playing dude, who had mean-mugged the whole show, was dancing with his girl. Note to stone faced dudes: Dance more often.

If you haven't already, read our Q&A with Janelle Monae

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