LIVE: Bruno Mars @ the Times Union Center, 7/20/14

Review by Greg Haymes

July was probably the biggest month of concerts in the history of the Times Union Center/Pepsi Arena/Knickerbockers Arena with knock-out, sold-out shows by Paul McCartney and Justin Timberlake, but relative newcomer Bruno Mars held his own with those veteran pop heavyweights, roaring into the downtown arena later in the month for his blockbuster Albany debut.

The 28-year-old Hawaiian-born singer-songwriter has been onstage since he was a tyke, and it shows. He’s got charisma, musical talent, versatility and an unquenchable desire to please the crowd, and he used them all to wow the audience during his 95-minute concert, from the thumping opener, “Moonshine,” to the final sexually charged encore of “Gorilla.” He’s a natural born entertainer.

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Coming just a few days after Timberlake’s superb performance, it’s hard not to compare Mars’ show with JT’s. And Mars was every bit his match. Both are excellent dancers with a commanding stage presence. And both owe a considerable debt to Michael Jackson. And while Timberlake showcased his instrumental skills on acoustic guitar and piano, Mars ripped up “Grenade” with a firey electric guitar solo and kicked off his encores with an impressive drum solo. In the end, Mars proved to be a better singer, shifting gears easily from the disco burn of “Treasure” to the spotlight love ballad of “When I Was Your Man” to the rockin’, rollicking rave-up of “Runaway Baby.”

The main difference between the two, however, seemed to be that Timberlake embraced contemporary hip-hop, while Mars looked more to the past for his musical inspiration. His soul stroll “If I Knew” – a duet with vocalist and co-songwriter Philip Lawrence – was obviously straight out of the pages of the Sam Cooke songbook, while “Locked Out of Heaven” was steeped in the sound of the Police.

But backed by a dynamic eight-piece band who melded with him onstage more like his streetcorner posse of pals rather than his employees, Mars was his own man, sometimes the tender romantic crooner – the grinding “our First Time” and “Nothin’ On You” – and sometimes the steamy, sexual predator – “Gorilla.” Who says you can’t have it both ways?

Not only did opening act Aloe Blacc and his six-piece band warm up the crowd with his old-school soul, he had them positively over-heated with nuggets like “I Need a Dollar,” “The Man” and “Wake Me Up.” Expect to see him in the headlining slot real soon…

SECOND OPINIONS:
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “He blasted through the opening of the show with tunes like ‘Moonshine,’ ‘Natalie’ and ‘Treasure.’ Fire-cracking explosions punctuated the endings. Video and lighting flashed everywhere and anywhere, working well with the music. His group was seven young men, all dancers too. In fact, they managed to play their instruments while staying in dance formation, jumping, kicking and spinning while blowing their horns and strumming the strings. They moved around the stage together and independently, all with expressive personalities, all friendly with big smiles and void of any tough-guy personas. For those who took their eyes off of Mars occasionally, there was plenty to watch. The show teetered between old-school soul updated for today’s impatient and stimulus-needy audience, good old rock and roll, and soulful ballads.”

BRUNO MARS SET LIST
Moonshine
Natalie
Treasure
Money (Barrett Strong) > Billionaire
Show Me > Our First Time > Pony
Marry You
If I Knew > Let It Rain > Runaway Baby
Nothin’ On You
When I Was Your Man
(piano interlude)
Grenade
Just the Way You Are
ENCORES
(drum solo)
Locked Out of Heaven
Gorilla

ALOE BLACC SET LIST
Who’s Got Your Back
Love Is the Answer
You Make Me Smile
Here Today
I Need a Dollar
The Man
Wake Me Up
Can You Do This?

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