With another night of entertaining performances from Bruno Mars and Paloma Faith, the year is shaping up to be one of the UAE’s best when it comes to live offerings.
Mars’s wide appeal could be seen in the varied crowd that attended the sold-out concert at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on Friday night, which included shrieking teenaged girls, their mums and dads and a smattering of -rock-dogs.
This is a testament to Mars’s eclectic musical tastes. He didn’t call his last album Unorthodox Jukebox for nothing: over two releases, the 27-year-old hopscotched over a variety of genres, including pop, R&B, soul, rock and doo-wop.
Backed by his energetic eight-piece band The Hooligans, Mars mixed up vintage and modern sounds into a tightly choreographed performance.
Dressed in a white fedora and colourful Hawaiian shirt, the singer was in Michael Jackson mode, with a dance strut that could have exploded into a moonwalk at any moment.
The funk-rock opener Moonshine had the crowd warmed up immediately, thanks to those bobbing bass lines.
The ecstatic runaway chorus of the follow-up Natalie disguised the fact that it’s a full-blooded revenge song, with Mars sweetly singing he was “digging a ditch” for the girl in question.
The Hooligans came into their own with Treasure. The song’s muscular funk rhythms and the wonderful horn section made the whole affair sound like a souped up Earth Wind and Fire.
The jukebox was the musical theme throughout, with extended medleys showcasing Mars’s influences – from sunny Hawaiian folk and reggae to the hits he wrote for others.
The Travie McCoy collaboration Billionaire merged smoothly to a cover of Aloe Blacc’s gritty I Need a Dollar before finally segueing into Mars’s reggae-tinged Show Me.
The above could, perhaps, be an example of Mars’s restless muse: using disparate pop elements to create sparkling, ultra-melodic pastiches.
Mars was an energetic presence throughout, moving from the microphone to electric and acoustic guitars to give certain tracks some extra oomph.
Runaway Baby may have sounded like a quick, soul-fuelled jab on the album, but Mars gave it the whole kitchen-sink approach – complete with horns, gnarly guitar solos and a James Brown-like dance break down, where the entire band showcased their nifty legwork.
It was the concert highlight and such musical tributes may be Mars’s lasting musical legacy once those hooks fade.
By turning the stage – even for a few minutes – into a 1960s soul revue, fans were encouraged to look back and unearth the history of forgotten classic artists. While the approach is hugely entertaining, it does pose some career risks that Mars will have to tackle sooner rather than later.
As a legitimate contender for the crown of the king of pop, Mars is yet to show any real identity as an artist.
His closest rival is Justin Timberlake who established himself as a forward-thinking pop star with only three albums, while Mars remains stuck in a giddy mix-and-match musical approach.
The results are well-calculated ear candy, such as the epic rendition of Grenade (complete with Coldplay-like guitar flourishes) and Just the Way You Are, but even while you’re humming the tunes, you still can’t help but wonder who Mars is as an artist.
Paloma Faith doesn’t have that challenge. The English oddball singer took to the stage in a dress resembling a bloodied ostrich and dedicated her 45-minute set to her new album Fall to Grace.
Backed by an eight-piece band, her entertaining performance showcased her elastic voice, which can move from a low, bitter coo to glass-shattering heights.
Her sensual hit cover of INXS’ Never Tear Us Apart was well received and by the time she finished with the stoic anthem Picking Up the Pieces, she had the crowd converted.
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