Bruno Mars – Nottingham Capital FM Arena, Tuesday November 1
When it comes to showing commitment, the fans of Bruno Mars are a hard act to beat. Outside the Capital FM Arena, the diehards had been queuing since morning, determined to bag the best spots at the front of the stage. And when the curtain was raised, revealing their diminutive hero in a feathered hat, loose black suit, striped vest and sneakers, the screams rose to an almost Bieber-like intensity.
Hawaiian born, to Puerto Rican and Filipino parents, Bruno has an appeal which crosses national boundaries. Over the past twelve months, the seemingly never-ending Doo-Wops & Hooligans tour has taken him several times around the globe, to venues which have steadily increased in capacity. But although this was the penultimate date of the tour, the freshness of the performers remained commendably undimmed.
Bruno’s long-time collaborator Philip Lawrence, who supplied backing vocals and joined the three-piece brass section in a series of tightly executed dance routines, never tired of geeing the crowd up – particularly in the middle of The Lazy Song, when his girly squeal (“Oh my God, this is great!”) literally stopped the whole show. “I think I might move here!”, he exclaimed. “Follow me on Twitter!”, he added, caught up in the heat of the moment – and cracking Bruno up so badly that he could barely resume the song.
Unlike most of this year’s big pop shows at the Arena, this was a stripped-down, gimmick-free affair, with no props, no dance troupes and no costume changes. If the playing had been anything less than spot-on, this could have made for a lacklustre show – but with the focus placed squarely upon the music, the players rose to the challenge. This was a tight, funky, versatile team, who could effortlessly switch from reggae to soul, and from R&B to rock, drawing on past traditions – the show often felt like a classic soul revue – while connecting with contemporary trends.
As for Bruno himself, he had an unusual knack of combining sunny wholesomeness – there was more than a touch of Donny Osmond about him, particularly in the dental department – with an unblinking sexual directness, such that even the ruder lyrics still somehow sounded clean. Steeped in music since childhood, his references ranged from Michael Jackson (particularly on Top Of The World, introduced as the first song he ever wrote) to James Brown (Runaway Baby, as recently performed on The X Factor, was an early highlight), via Fifties doo-wop, Sixties Motown and Seventies reggae.
The Doo-Wops & Hooligans album, from which most of the set was drawn, is a light, easy-going affair for the most part, with something of the relaxed appeal of Bruno’s fellow Hawaiian, Jack Johnson. It’s the sort of album which might have soundtracked your holiday, wafting out of your favourite beach bar for days on end. Sure, it’s undemanding stuff for the most part, and lyrics such as “You can count on me, like one two three” are hardly likely to be remembered as enduring classics, but there has always been a place in pop for simple good cheer, and it was hard to argue with the effect that it had on the Arena’s capacity crowd. Beautifully sung and fondly executed, the ninety minute set left nine thousand happy fans wreathed in smiles. Job well done, Mister Mars.
Set list: The Other Side, Top Of The World, Money (That’s What I Want), Billionaire, Our First Time, Runaway Baby, Marry You, The Lazy Song, Count On Me, Liquor Store Blues, Nothin’ On You, Grenade, Just The Way You Are, Lighters, Talking To The Moon.