Bruno Mars is immensely entertaining, and his performance Sunday night at the Times Union Center was a state-of-the-art arena concert. It had the same energy as his half-time show during the Super Bowl, but lasted the whole concert.
His presence on stage was simultaneously enormous and humble. Watching him sing is as good as hearing him. He also danced, played a solid guitar and banged pretty well on the drums. But most of all, he has the ability to win over every last person in a jam-packed arena. By the time he sang “Just the Way You Are,” even the fathers were smiling and swaying their arms back and forth with their teenage daughters.
Halfway through the show, during “If I Knew,” which he called one of “his favorite songs from his latest record “Unorthodox Jukebox,” he shut his eyes and sang to the rafters, “Do you love me?” which he repeated three times, prompting a screaming chorus of “yes” from the audience.
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.
They played a straight-rock version of “Money (That’s What I Want),” Mars handling a blues-based guitar solo, bending to his knees for its climax, then stopping abruptly to sing solo the beginning of “Billionaire.”
When the first notes of “Marry You” were heard, an unexpected high-pitched wall of teen screams, higher pitched than with the previous tunes, filled the arena.
There was a particularly fun moment — the whole show could be described as fun — when he repeated “a little bit softer now” until there was no sound from the stage, only Mars dancing around and appearing to sing the song. If he did make noise, it was drowned out by the audience.
Other great songs included the ballad “Nothing on You,” “When I Was Your Man” — cell phones swayed above heads for this one — “Grenade,” with images of flames behind the stage, and “Locked Out of Heaven.”
Mars said this was his first Albany visit. Young, hardworking, excited to be anywhere entertaining a crowd, it’s likely he’ll be back for many years to come.
Aloe Blacc opened the show with a 40-minute set that launched the crowd into a full dance sweat. Shuffling and crooning like his soul heroes, who he told us were Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Stevie Wonder, he lit the place up with his two hits “I’m the Man” and “Wake Me Up.” But he kept the arena on its feet through more tunes, like “Here Today” and “Lift Your Spirit.”
Not only was it refreshing to see old-school soul from young performers, he had the whole place roaring by the time he was done.