Bruno Mars wsg/ Janelle Monáe
(Caesars Windsor Colosseum, Windsor, Canada - May 22nd, 2011)
Firstly, this review was meant to start with my very first viewing of UK phenom Plan B (or Ben Drew, as he is also known) - a British rapper, singer-songwriter, who has taken the music world by storm across the Pond. But, and without a word of warning - as his name was on all the advertising, on all the tshirts - he hadn't been part of the tour for some two weeks or more. Gutted, heavily disappointed, and more such feelings washed over me - so much so that I drowned my sorrows with some drinks at the bar (watching Gwen Stefani-esque blonde Christina Criss perform) whilst the new opener, Patrick Stump played instead.
OK, with all that now out of my system, I returned for the stage performance of the highly-rated singer, songwriter, and dancer named Janelle Monae - a 26 year-old singer who encapsulates the word Entertainer to a tee. Unfortunately, she also encapsulates the words Quirky, Hi-NRG, and (sometimes) seemingly Battier Than A Belfry!
As the lights go down, the 13-strong band strike up, three black-cloaked figures slowly creep on stage. Revealing herself to be one of them, Janelle - always seen in a tuxedo, rocking a pompadour - then takes the next 12 minutes to sing the one opening song! Her music is a blend of alternative, R&B and funk sounds. Indeed, from the backdrop video screen, it seems that some of her songs are inspired by things like Muhammad Ali and even Star Wars!
Backed by a wonderful, tight rhythm section, plus an extra percussionist, a four person swing section, two brass players, an OTT (rock) guitarist, three back-up singers, and, of course, dancers (everyone clothed in angled, black-and-white retro-futurist outfits), Janelle is still (at times) alone on the stage. Everyone behind her takes their cues from her - whether she is writhing on the floor, chanting erratically into her mic, or simply stalking the stage like a confused tiger!
Early into her set tonight she stops the funk and comes back out solo, just her and the Kravitz-wannabe guitarist, to slow everything down for her take on Nat King Cole's classic, 'Smile.' She then fires the tempo straight back up by announcing that "This is for you," before the best song of the night is performed, 'Sincerely Jane' (aka, Walking Dead).
For most all the songs Janelle fleshes out the visuals with a 70's style video projection in the background and a lighting scheme that captures the entire stage at times. And, some two-thirds of the way through her act, Janelle decides to sing another long song, but breaks it up with some on-stage easel painting! Bringing out an artist's vision of, well, Love, she creates her minds eye view of Love 'alive,' before launching into another great track, 'Cold War.'
The Grammy nominated star then brings forth a quite excellent version of 'Tightrope,' that features a lot of James Brown-esque shoe shine slides; and upper body shifts! Sadly, after nine minutes, it turns into a weird "La-la-la-la-la" fest for Janelle, as those are the lyrics muttered into the mic (standing up, bending over, running out into the crowd; posing for photos along the way, or simply lying down out of sight) for the following seven minutes straight!
When the curtain opened on Bruno Mars tonight, well, my God I actually took in how many teenagers (mostly female) and even younger were packed into the venue! Thousands, quite literally! Bruno sure has a younger audience, but that said he keeps the show flowing along for all ages.
Mars, better known in the UK as Peter Gene Hernandez (!) is first seen holding his guitar, spots shining down on him, a big cheesy grin on his face - something that NEVER left him the entire show! The singer/songwriter/producer behind such radio smash hits as B.o.B.'s 'Nothin' On You' and Travie McCoy's 'Billionaire' quickly finds his groove amidst the drum beats and the flashing lights. "I'm gonna play the first song I ever wrote," he says, once the applause has died down. "It's not on my album though - it's called 'Top Of The World'."
He then explains that the next song is the one that "inspired 'Billionaire'", before giving us two minutes of the 1959 hit single by Barrett Strong. 'Money (That's What I Want)' - before bleeding straight into 'Billionaire.' "I've got you all night, Windsor," he announces, before singing the slow song, 'Our First Time.'
The best song of his set, for me, came next in the shape of the frantic 'Runaway Baby.' Complete with the cheesy smile, a dangerous hip thrust (or three), and his silky smooth voice, Bruno is on fire tonight for his adoring audience. "This is the kind of music that I grew up listening to," he informs the crowd, "and why the album was called Doo-Wops & Hooligans - this is 'Dance In The Mirror'."
'Marry You' is then bled straight into 'The Lazy Song,' where the heavily extended track is broken up in the middle, so that his musical sidekick Philip Lawrence can take center stage with his mid-section exclamation, "Oh my God! This is great!" - three times! 'Count on Me' is dedicated to all the girls here tonight, but it's Bruno's charm as a stand-out artist - cracking jokes, conversing in an overly-friendly manner with the audience - that makes him a total star right now.
"I wrote the next song when I was drunk,", he laughs, as we get to hear 'Liquor Store Blues.' But, as we wind down the show, his two big hits come barreling out, with the first, 'Beautiful Girls' being sung (in its last few bars) to a hand-picked front row guest (no teenager, trust me!). And then, as we had all waited patiently, his current massive radio play hit 'Grenade' was unleashed and totally rocked the house.
With an encore of 'Just the Way You Are,' Bruno proved tonight he can hold his own, that he channels the aura of the King of Pop - the snarled lips, the hand slam on his guitar, the solo spots center stage, hat tilted, left foot heel up, toe down - and, most importantly, that he is definitely here to stay for a long, long time.
Review & Photos by: Russell A. Trunk