As soon as we heard him sing the hook on "Billionaire," it was like, "Wait. Who's THAT?" We knew the guy could sing. But who would have laid down money that three years later, Bruno Mars would be headlining Consol Energy Center, let alone packing it?
Two albums and a whole slew of hits later, that's what he did Tuesday night on his Moonshine Jungle Tour.
Mars might not be Prince (who is?), but the 27-year-old Filipino/Puerto Rican star from Honolulu is on the track and has similar ambitions to inject new life into the ghosts of "Soul Train," right down to the line dances.
When the elegant black curtain with the gold palms dropped, he hit the stage in a black suit and leopard top and immediately took his place in a front line with four of his singers/musicians -- clearly more interested in blending in than standing out.
The humble gesture is charming. For the next 90 minutes, though, he did it all. James Brown dance moves, Chuck Berry guitar riffs, Sam Cooke vocal chops, MJ vocal chops, even a drum solo!
Money (That's What I Want) >Billionaire
Show Me > Pony > Candy Rain
If I Knew > It Will Rain
Nothin' on You
When I Was Your Man
Just the Way You Are
Locked Out Of Heaven
Mars is genre non-specific, so he and his band, with three-piece horn section by his side, glided from the disco of "Moonshine" and "Treasure" to the reggae-pop of "Billionaire" to the old-school soul of "Candy Rain" and funk of "Runaway Baby." For starters.
Although he's new to the pop world, he's been performing since he was a kid and has classic tastes, which explains why he didn't rely on the typical awards-show type production. Other than the lights being more high-tech and the explosive finale, this wasn't far removed from a '70s show with the pure focus being the band's tight groove and his silky vocals. On "Marry Me" and "Young Girls," among others, he and the "Moonshine" band showed how they can break it down as well.
That's all he really needs to wow his fans. He reinforced that vibe, saying, "What up, Pittsburgh? What's good? We waited a long time to play for y'all," then adding, "Our job is to get y'all moving, get y'all shaking, but you can't really do that with your camera phones in your hand, can you?!"
Late in the set, when he rolled out "When I Was Your Man" and "Just the Way You Are," he raised the roof with a lovely girl choir of thousands before the band took it on home. In between, they set off "Grenade" as a rumbling rocker with his own stinging guitar solo.
He started the encore with a furious drum solo before stepping forward to hit the ridiculous highs of "Locked Out of Heaven" and down, dirty grind of "Gorilla," which finally prompted the blasts of pyro.
You could say unequivocally that in his Pittsburgh debut, Bruno, like the Sammartino he was nicknamed for, was nothing short of a champ.
Ellie Goulding was an interesting choice for the tour as she's almost like an accidental acquaintance to Top 40. The British artist, working in the tradition of a Sinead O'Connor, threw herself into dreamy, dramatic art-rock songs punctuated with primal percussion. She even had her own little kit set up in front of her, which she beat wildly as her blond hair flew up and down.
She's not beholden to pop formula, but she can play that game, connecting with the fans on "Anything Can Happen," her Calvin Harris joint "I Need Your Love" and the flashy "Lights," which was a bit out of her (and virtually any human's) range live.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2576.