Where Bryan Adams does everything for you and Prince would die for you, Boy George would only tumble for you. In devotion and in pop music, it’s all about degrees.
Bruno Mars knows this, and so he piles up his melodrama higher than the fedora on his Aquarius-age afro. For you, and for the squealing throng at the Molson Amphitheatre, he would jump in front of a train, go through pain and take a “bullet through the brain.” He would absolutely rhyme for you, and he would, as his explosively emotive song tells it, “take a grenade for you.” For people who are made happy when their significant other only takes out the garbage, Mars’s hyper (if sometimes worryingly self-destructive) commitment is top-notch.
In front of a sold-out audience which included kids, grandparents and sympathetic young women, Mars, near the concert’s end, passionately jumped back and forth in front of a brooding piano part and a hustling, galloping piece of balladic bombast. The song was Grenade, and its effect was, well, grenade like, with the swooners taking the brunt of it.
As for Mars (the spot-lit guy in the leopard-spot shirt and star of the Moonshine Jungle tour), overcome that his lover would not reciprocate his heroic dedication, he ripped searing notes from his tobacco-sunburst Stratocaster guitar. These were metaphorical tears on his face, and anguish – the blues, by any other name.
He would take shrapnel for you. Are you so cold-hearted that you would not pay $61.50 or $155 in return? Of course not. Why, it is a bargain. And what is a relationship if not a series of negotiations?
It is part of the deal that we take Mars’s sincerity at face value, though its is hard to do at times. Immediately prior to Grenade, he offered a wounded-dude single from his second and most recent album Unorthodox Jukebox. Before performing the delicate pop-piano ballad, he told his audience that he’d written plenty of songs and sung plenty, too, but that When I Was Your Man was the hardest on him.
Emotionally the hardest, one presumes, because the song is straight forward in its appeal and structure – harmonically aligned to classics by Elton John and Bernie Taupin or Alicia Keys’s Brand New Me. Lyrics were not fussed over: A repentant man wishes he’d bought flowers more often. An overwrought Mars sells it onstage with every one of his limited ounces. The saccharine content worries the Surgeon General and Smokey Robinson.
There is a temptation to compare to Mars with Robinson, as both are gifted, charismatic pop songwriters. Robinson recently opened the Toronto Jazz Festival, where he put on display his endless Motown hit parade, including The Tracks of My Tears. Those of us in attendance took a good look at Robinson’s face, his smile looking out of place, and could only marvel at the subtle pop-music sophistication at work. Where Robinson keened elegantly, Mars sometimes drifts into boy-band emoting and earthier shenanigans.
Mars’s show was big though, with gregarious horn players, sing-alongs and high energy at every stop. The stylistic jukebox from which he draws is well-stocked; a snazzy, thematic medley included the Berry Gordy classic Money (That’s What I Want), a snippet of the 2010 Aloe Blacc hit I Need a Dollar, and Mars’s own reggae-rocking Billionaire.
The encore brought the choppy and infectious Locked Out of Heaven, which stuttered rhythmically in its verse and soared sky-high in its chorus. It seemed like a show-stopper, but Mars added Gorilla, which was jungle-lewd as it reached for the minor-key top. Fountains spewed sparkly pyrotechnics and Mars beat his chest one last time. He would take bullets for us, but spend many, too.
Bruno Mars plays Montreal’s Bell Centre, July 5; Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre again on July 6; Quebec City’s Le Festival d’été de Québec, July 8; Edmonton’s Rexall Place, July 18; and Vancouver’s Rogers Centre, July 20.