“There’s a place in my heart for old-school music, and this is an attempt to write a song like the ones I grew up listening to,” declares Hawaiian-born megastar Bruno Mars before the righteous, foot-sweeping, synchronised-dancing Soul Train rush of “Runaway Baby”.
Amidst a show which never flags from an often bewildering level of hyperactivity, trying on various tones and styles for size through its 90 minutes, the song is perhaps the purest example of what Mars (born Peter Hernandez 27 years ago in Honolulu) gets right with his music. It borrows from the past and offers a very contemporary pop thrill all at once.
Of course, those in attendance might struggle to see past the shiny and new given the setting. Glasgow’s new 12,000-capacity Hydro arena – now the UK’s second largest indoor concert arena after London’s O2 – is less than a week old. Its saucer-like external appearance is matched by a very modern experience inside, particularly for those in the tiers of plush seats making the most of the great acoustics and sight lines. In comparison to the week’s previous headliners Rod Stewart and Fleetwood Mac, Mars feels like a 21st century experience for a 21st century building.
So as such, there was an overflow of action and movement and throwing sounds at us to see what stuck. The opening “Moonshine” saw the singer, wearing tan waistcoat, white fedora and a shirt open at the gold chained collar, promise to “take us to the stars… to that special place” in a version amped-up from its smooth recorded format, while around him his two guitarists, three horn players and one backing singer all flung themselves around the stage in exuberant, synchronised sequence.
When the troupe aren’t belting out a really quite creditable JBs impression on tracks like “Grenade” or adding a commercial disco flavour during “Treasure” (complete with lowered mirrorball and side-to-side communal hand-waving), Mars is putting to good use an admirable vocal impersonation of Michael Jackson, notably on the sexualised, podium-singing slow jam of “Our First Time”.
Yet the disconnect between the hard-working analogue old and the flat-packed digital new of pop was often apparent, from roaring choruses of “Money (That’s What I Want)” and Aloe Blacc’s soulful “ I Need a Dollar” bookending Mars’ lines on Travie McCoy’s simpering irony vacuum “Billionaire” to the X-Factor-lite anaemia of “Just the Way You Are”.
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