PHOTOS: Bruno Mars, Janelle Monae at the 1stBank Center - Reverb

Live review: Bruno Mars, Janelle Monae @ the 1stBank Center

Just when it seemed as though wunderkind Bruno Mars -– he of the coy, boyish charm and the golden songwriting pen and the voice you could just pour over ice cream –- could do no wrong, well, then he does.

He picks Janelle Monáe as his partner on the “Hooligans in Wundaland Tour,” leaving many of us out there in the undersold 1stBank Center crowd Sunday night wondering, “What just happened?”

Mars has Cee Lo Green on speed dial following their brilliant collaboration on “F**k You,” and he even manages to make B.o.B. look like a genius (“Nothin’ on You” was a Mars vocal highlight Sunday night, even without the Atlanta rapper’s silly but infectious rhymes all over it).

But Monáe and her amateur performance-art hour was so tedious and painful, I don’t know what even Mars could have done to fix it. Were those cape-clad dancers dressed as “Star Wars” Ewoks or extras from the “Scream” franchise? The “Alice in Wonderland” backup singers made no sense with the rest of the cast’s “Matrix” saddle shoes and Monáe’s Grace Jones sunglasses. And the song choices could not have been more jangling. We went from Nat King Cole’s “Smile” to “I Want You Back” from the Jackson 5 to Monáe’s own funkadelic “Tightrope.”

Give the Grammy award-winning singer props for the groovin’ 11-piece band, and during “I Want You Back,” there were moments it sounded as though Janet and Michael were in the house. But those dance moves have got to go –- everyone lying down on the stage as legitimate choreography went out in, um, 1978.

Surprisingly, there were quite a few folks in the crowd who remember that year, although they were far outnumbered by preteens in matching sequin-studded fedoras and T-shirts that had been hand-painted to read things like, “Marry Me, Bruno.” The latter looked utterly befuddled by Monáe. They were there to study the fully hatched teen girls, to learn how to wave their arms in the air like they just don’t care and affect the look of expert concertgoer.

Where Monáe’s part of the show might have been better suited to an off-the-Strip Vegas lounge act, Mars would have fit in much better anywhere smaller and more intimate. He has such a darling give-and-take with his audience, and while there is the concern that some of his more aggressive fans might accidentally eat him like a little nugget of caramel corn, his sound just isn’t big enough to fill a place that, well, is also such a good spot for Roller Derby.

He purposely started out with a tune that doesn’t appear on “Doo-Wops & Hooligans,” last year’s full-length debut, a song he’s maintained is the first one he ever wrote, “Top of the World.” It’s a foot-tapping if not raucous dance track and meant to get everyone moving, but at the end Mars seemed to be frustrated that it hadn’t worked. The failure was due to several things: the unfamiliar song, the thin acoustics, the fact that everyone was still a bit shell-shocked by Monáe. He moved on to the tried-and-true call-and-response format –- he called it going “old school” –- to amp up the crowd before moving on to a roughed-up version of the hit song he wrote with Travie McCoy, “Billionaire.”

The rest of the show alternated between being dedicated to making the girls (and their moms) scream by thrusting out his pelvis –- which, by the way, Elvis did better decades ago by not feeling the need to announce that he was going to do it ahead of time –- and then fake-innocently asking, “What the hell are you screaming about?” He ran through most of the CD, including the insipid “The Lazy Song,” which, thank heavens, is better live because he and co-conspirator and Smeezingtons bandmate Philip Lawrence injected it with some humor and character.

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Kyle Wagner is a regular contributor to Reverb and travel editor at The Denver Post.

Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.

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  • Marcela

    I have to disagree with the author in almost everything. Janelle Monae kicked ass. She’s very unique and very theatrical but if you listen to the cd, you’ll know it would be like that. I, myself, haven’t gotten her cd until the day after the show. She impressed me with her performance which I would call complex. Of course lot of Bruno fans were not so happy about her because all they wanted to see was Bruno. They were bored because they don’t understand this type of music. But she had me dancing all the way through. Her “Smile” song has an actual connection to Jackson 5 I think, since she admires Michael Jackson and “Smile” was his favorite song. Jackson 5 song “I want you back” was also fitting since you can hear lot of Motown influence in her song and performances. As far as acoustics go, I thought it was pretty loud but I was probably at 8th row on general admission floor. I don’t think the venue was undersold since there were no more tickets available when my friend and I were trying to get one for her sister. I loved Bruno’s performance as well. He was very charming and a great entertainer. And he’s just having fun with everything. He’s a jokester and that’s where all the pelvis thrusting talk comes from. And it really doesn’t matter if you announce it or not, effect is the same. It was like that with Elvis, Michael Jackson and now with Bruno. It’s just a different delivery but it works. And this is not coming from a teen, I’m 31 years old and enjoyed the show to the fullest.

  • Hehehe

    I agree 110% that Janelle lacked talent during her performance. It was more high pitched scream and guitar screeching than it was music, but saying that Bruno was focused more on his ‘pelvic thrusts’ than his music is ridiculous. His performance was beyond amazing. The crowd was into it and he was never disappointed by our interactions with him. The Lazy Song is a great song no matter if it is played live or on the radio. You can’t deny the musical talent that Bruno has… nnWhat show were you watching because I don’t think you saw the same Bruno as I saw… Maybe you got confused with that Mayor Hawthorn dude…. nnSincerely, Hooligan for Life

  • Zetta

    I thought Hawthorn was great.n

  • Zetta

    I have a feeling that the author of this article has specific musical tastes which coincide directly with pop-youth culture.u00a0 My wife and I left when Mars began playing, rolling our eyes at his seemingly stereotypical popularity.u00a0 nI highly doubt that Mars had direct input as to whether Monae toured with him.u00a0 From his confusing voguishness, it seems as if there are many powerful suits “pulling the strings.”u00a0 nThat being said, I was disappointed that Monae was put on such a “tweeny” bill.u00a0 She put on one heck of a show and just because hundreds of 16 year old girls and the boyfriends they drug along don’t understand it, doesn’t mean she can’t perform, or make creative and interesting music, as well as perform magically.u00a0 nThe dancers/stage show glued the whole performance together for me.u00a0 It made sense, it was creative and tied to the music from start to finish.u00a0 Not to mention, I was moved by how many roles each musician played in the show. nKnowing that Monae has toured with bands such as “Of Montreal” might add some insight into her idiosyncrasies.u00a0 I can see similarities between her live performance and theirs.u00a0 But, her show definitely has her fingerprints all over it. nWe went to see Monae, and only Monae, and were not disappointed.u00a0 We were the minority at 1st bank, which made it feel extra special, like a private concert, due to the dazed expressions seen on most of the attendees.nI cannot believe, as a music reviewer, that Kyle Wagner could not appreciate the performance, or the talent presented.u00a0 Very disappointing review.

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