Bruno Mars, Janelle Monáe, and Mayer Hawthorne
June 12, 2011
Fresh off their smashing performance at this year's Grammys, Bruno Mars and Janelle Monáe linked up once again to tour. With the addition of Mayer Hawthorne, you've got three of the truest purveyors of perfect pop music on stage together. All young, emerging talents, they share a great love and understanding of music from decades past–but they're not afraid to look to the future, either. Last night was the second to last date on their two-month Hooligans in Wondaland North American tour.
Few people in the audience seemed to be familiar with Mayer Hawthorne & the County, even though his tight neo-soul made him a natural fit for the tour. He used his short opening spot to showcase a mix of both old and new material, like some of his most popular covers and some new material that'll be on his upcoming record for United Artists. He opened with a mix of Snoop Dogg's “Gangsta Luv” and “Make Her Mine” off his Stones Throw debut LP, A Strange Arrangement. He did a quick cover of Hall & Oates' “You Make My Dreams” and a twenty-second rendition of Beyonce's “Single Ladies”–probably the only song in his set that anyone in the audience recognized. And in between his song “I Wish That It Would Rain” and his latest single, “A Long Time,” he taught us a dance from his hometown of Detroit: the Errol Flynn.
Futuristic “Emotion picture” artist Janelle Monáe's entrance was suitably theatrical; an ecstatic MC in a top hat and coattails welcomed us to the show and beckoned her to the stage. She and several dancers came to the stage in heavy-hooded black cloaks, later peeled back to reveal skintight bodysuits with glittering cuffs. Her band the ArchOrchestra wore crisp black suits, playing space-funk while a James Bond-meets-Fantasia mash-up filled the screens flanking the stage.
Last year Monáe released her first studio LP The ArchAndroid for Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy Records, an elaborate R&B sci-fi concept album in which the messiah Cindi Mayweather travels through time to save an android civilization and spread a message of love and unity. Debuting at number 17 on the US Billboard 200, the record earned Monáe a Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album, and led her to a co-headlining spot on the Hooligans in Wondaland tour.
In this sequentially faithful reproduction of The ArchAndroid's first act, Monáe opened with instrumental “Suite II Overture” and sped through to “Faster,” where she shed her cloak to reveal her trademark tailored tux, skinny tie, and jeweled bow. She jumped into “Sincerely, Jane” with sunglasses from the future on, and then revealed a talent for tributes, moonwalking across the stage and singing a pitch perfect rendition of the Jackson 5's “I Want You Back.”
During “Mushrooms & Roses,” Monáe turned her back to the audience to paint a picture, a simple line drawing with the word “love” written across it. She saved the best for last, her two singles off ArchAndroid, the pounding “Cold War” and the greasy funk jam “Tight Rope,” and got a piggy-back ride through the crowd and back to the stage.
Bruno Mars' set was much simpler, and far less visually stimulating, despite the massive video screen behind him. He came to the stage with a single spotlight focused on him, while the word “hooligan” flashed behind him. Mars implored the crowd to “maybe put your cameras down and have some fun with us tonight,” but no one listened; every other person in the crowd waved an iPhone in the air all night, seeming to forget to actually watch the show they'd been eagerly awaiting for so long.
Girls started screaming and crying the second he stepped on stage, thrilled to be sharing the same space with the rising pop star even for only an hour.
Mars studio debut Doo-Wops & Hooligans came out less than a year ago, and he's already sold out the biggest venues across the country. Though it doesn't attempt the same conceptual grandiosity as The ArchAndroid, the album clocked in at number three on the Billboard 200, landing top ten spots in several other countries. He was nominated for seven Grammys at the 53rd Grammy Awards, winning Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “Just the Way You Are.” And even before all that, he penned chart-topping tracks for Maroon 5, Brandy, and Flo Rida and co-wrote the hooks for “Nothin' on You” by B.o.B and “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy.
Wearing tight levis and a blue jean cutoff vest and his hair slicked back, Mars brought “Grease” back and the Gibson became a 1950s sock hop with doo-wop singers crooning while the kids dance in leather jackets and poodle skirts. He opened with “It's Better If You Don't Understand” and feel-good anthem “Top of the World,” the first song he ever wrote.
He ran through all his hits–that is, pretty much every single song on Doo-Wops & Hooligans, and the shrieking and crying never stopped. A cross between a young, coy Elvis, and a savage-slick Michael Jackson, Mars captivated the ladies all night long.