This past September I ran an interview with LeRoy Bennett, the production designer to some of music’s biggest names ever (https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevebaltin/2017/09/21/from-prince-to-paul-mccartney-to-bruno-mars-leroy-bennett-is-the-man/#100209987ed8). At the time Bennett spoke about being the production designer and lighting consultant for pop superstar Bruno Mars on Mars’ sold-out “24K Magic World Tour.”
“I love Bruno, I have so much respect for him not just as an artist, but as a human being. He’s a great guy, really down to earth and just a great human being,” Bennett said of Mars.
He also spoke of Mars as an artist. “He’s very specific about things he likes. He has been heavily influenced by Prince, in a lot of ways, as well as Michael Jackson. But he speaks in a way that is very familiar to me because of the way Prince spoke,” Bennett explained. “He focuses on everything, which is great, that’s what makes him who he is. It’s the details that make a difference and he understands the importance of that. He has a very specific style and every time he does an album it is a reflection of an era, whether it’s the ‘70s, the ‘80s, this one being the ‘90s. It’s a hint of what things look like visually at that time, but with a twist on it so it’s modern.”
Watching Mars and his exceptional band, the Hooligans, on night three of their four sold-out nights at Los Angeles’ Forum it was easy to see both traits Bennett described – the easy-going guy and the driven artist.
The idea of an easy-going guy and driven artist might seem like an oxymoron, but Mars makes it work and it is why he has become one of the biggest stars in music today. From the very opening number, “Finesse,” when he comes out on stage dressed in a baseball jersey and shorts, he has a remarkable affability that feels more like a Little Stevie Wonder than either Prince or Jackson. Mars shows off an engagingness that is, at times, astonishing.
Whether it’s the choreographed routines he and his band do that are perfectly executed but feel as if they are just hanging out at a house party goofing around or turning what is likely a pre-planned shtick into something that feels spontaneous, his ability to make bits that were likely months or at least weeks in planning feel as if he is just doing them at the moment is a gift that any great improvisational comedian would envy.
Here’s a perfect example: at one point in the midst of the show at the Forum Mars smilingly teases the audience, saying, “What the f**k?” He then still jokingly admonishes the crowd for being too quiet, “I don’t need any of that Hollywood s**t. If you guys are going to be silent, we’re going to be silent.” He brings the band down to absolute silence but continues to do a dazzling dance routine that is like the ultimate silent disco. Odds are he does this bit every night in every city on the “24K Magic Tour.” But the fact that I am even questioning whether it was special to L.A. or a bit is a testament to how natural Mars makes the whole show feel. And this was the third night just in L.A.
Whether it’s as the host or a brilliantly gifted musician, which he is, Mars brings an effortlessness and ease to the stage that makes the whole thing feel more like a backyard hang than an arena show. The only other artist that does that with the same skill is Bruce Springsteen. But even Springsteen looks as if he’s working hard on stage, making sure you know he is giving every effort to reach however many tens of thousands are in the building on this night. Mars is clearly doing the same. You don’t achieve the level of stardom and skill on stage he exhibits without working tirelessly. But somehow he manages to make the beautiful ballad “When I Was Your Man,” the romantic pop sweetness of “Just The Way You Are” and the gritty funk of “24K Magic” feel as if you are watching a rehearsal, not one of pop’s most gifted superstars.
A true sign of greatness in any field is when someone makes their skill look easy. Well, given how effortless Bruno Mars makes his incredible pop and soul extravaganza look, there is no doubting his greatness as a showman.
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