The beats, the band, the voice, the moves. Those dimples and that smile. Bruno Mars has it all. He lit up Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night like no other performer this year.
At 31, he may be the best all-around talent to come along in pop music since Prince. Except Mars is missing the originality and the vision it takes to make the talent last for a generation.
Saturday’s supremely entertaining show was the most consistent of Mars’ three performances at the X.
A sensation since his 2010 debut album, the songwriter/producer/singer/multi-instrumentalist involves his band, the Hooligans, in his concert more successfully than any other pop star. They are an integral part of his show, singing, dancing and playing their instruments in step — often literally — with the bandleader.
To signify their essentialness, they wear the same baseball-and-track outfits as Mars does (in a different color). Plus, when he introduced each of the eight Hooligans, he did so with a genuine smile and palpable slap-on-the-back camaraderie. These dudes matter to him; they are key parts of the team.
Mars played more guitar this time around, though his chops suggest that he hasn’t yet graduated to the upper division at the Carlos Santana School of Guitar.
The consummate showman, he danced enough steps to suggest dazzle but seldom dazzled enough. He smiled enough to turn on the charisma, but that didn’t compensate for his lack of banter with the crowd.
He never mentioned Prince, one of his idols, or having been to the late icon’s Paisley Park studios earlier in the day (or acknowledging Prince’s brother Omarr Baker sitting in the front row). Instead, he merely pointed to heaven during his hit “Marry You” and played a snippet of Prince’s “Purple Rain” on guitar.
A consummate student of soul music and dynamic performers dating back to his childhood days doing Elvis Presley tributes in his parents’ band, Mars acknowledged his influences on Saturday but seldom transcended them. The first half of the 95-minute set was devoted mostly to material from last year’s “24K Magic,” his third hit album.
There were nods to James Brown (“Perm”), Bobby Brown (“Finesse”), New Edition (“Versace on the Floor”), Prince (“Chunky”) and Zapp (“24K Magic”), to name a few.
Some of the lyrics on the new album pander to a sex-obsessed street vibe, which seems trite and misguided for a star who has heretofore been safely mainstream with a remarkably broad and diverse audience. Well, at least the new songs have great beats to dance to — and the sellout crowd of more than 17,000 fans danced pretty much all night.
The outfits that Mars and the Hooligans wore — pinstriped baseball tops, ball caps, black track pants and white Nike sneakers — definitely had a street vibe. But then why does the 24K Magic World Tour have a boxing theme — from the tour’s crown logo to the stylish black-with-gold-trim boxing robes given to VIP ticket buyers?
A Hawaiian of Filipino and Puerto Rican heritage, Mars has always been a mix-and-match kind of guy. If “24 K Magic” updates late 1980s and ’90s soul music, his first two albums were pastiches of 1970s and early ’80s soul. That’s why on Saturday, both “Treasure” and “Locked Out of Heaven” suggested Michael Jackson, one of Mars’ main influences, and “When I Was Your Man” and the ebullient finale of “Uptown Funk” oozed Prince and the Time.
Those songs and Mars’ style certainly have captured the attention of the masses. Part of a 141-concert tour in 32 countries, the St. Paul gig sold out instantly in November and on Saturday afternoon the X added standing-room-only tickets, a rarity for a concert there. Mars rewarded the faithful with unstoppable beats, top-notch musicianship and the kind of showmanship that was part personal and part whiz-bang technical. Whether he can sustain that kind of momentum for years to come will depend on whether he finds his own vision and voice.