Review: Mars finds treasure on planet R&B

He called it “R&B 101,” and he boiled it down to a single utterance voiced with syllables elongated, testing the elasticity of the word like a boulder dropped onto a trampoline.

“D-a-a-a-m-m-m-n-n!” Bruno Mars howled with the crazy-eyed zeal of a street preacher forecasting some locust showers.

According to Mars, mastering the delivery of this exclamatory burst is the true test of a soul man’s worth, even more so than his ability to sing and dance.

“I’m tellin’ ya,” the 27-year-old implored to a sold-out MGM Grand Garden on Saturday, perhaps sensing some skepticism towards this assertion. “I’ve been doing this for a decade.”

By “this,” Mars means mining R&B’s past to excavate hunks of contemporary pop gold.

And he’s been doing it much longer than a decade, touring as an Elvis impersonator before he was in kindergarten.

“I made my first album because I have a place in my heart for old school music,” Mars announced prior to “If I Knew,” a song that began with gospel-like yearning and ended with Mars’ voice going up and down, up and down, like an overworked elevator.

Flanked by an eight-piece band, Mars seemed intent on giving the adoring crowd something of a musical history lesson, a Cliff Notes version, at least, surveying ’70s funk lite via the carbonated, Jackson Five-worthy “Treasure,” Bob Marley-indebted reggae on “Show Me,” growling, pompadour powered ’50s rock and roll during a cover of Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want)” and the more slickly produced, sexually ribald R&B of his teen years for a stripped down, heavy breathing, window fogging take on Ginuwine’s “Pony.”

Mars, who initially made a name for himself as a songwriter, sampled some of the more modern-sounding hits he penned for other artists, performing Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” and B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You,” but in both cases, the songs’ radio-friendly sheen was deliberately scuffed up and hardened by maximalist drumming and assertive bass lines that registered in the gut like indigestion.

Smiling as if he was auditioning for a part in a toothpaste commercial, Mars served as a switch-hitting bandleader, ripping guitar leads from his knees like Marty McFly in “Back to the Future” and bashing out a feverish drum solo prior to an exultant “Locked Out of Heaven.”

Mars’ singing voice is lithe and supple, smooth as a pair of fresh-pressed slacks, though he’d occasionally let it loose like a kid relinquishing his grip on a balloon to watch it soar up and away.

In his songs, he mostly plays the role of tender-hearted Lothario, a carefully calibrated mix of naughty and nice, who puts his woman on a sky-scraping pedestal (“On top of the world is where I stand when you’re back in my life;” “If perfect’s what you’re searching for, then just stay the same”), takes the blame when love goes bad (“My selfish ways caused a good strong woman like you to walk out my life”) and then flashes a decidedly more steamy side (“Clothes are not required for what we got planned”).

Throughout the show, Mars winked at his seductiveness, pausing at one point to find a lady in the crowd for he and a trio of his bandmates to engage in a bit of competitive sweet talking.

Turns out the woman was named Page.

“I’d like to turn your page all night long,” Mars purred without missing a beat.

Then the band lunged into “Runaway Baby,” a concussive, full-contact funk throw down where Mars sang into a bullhorn at one point.

“Run away, baby, before I put my spell on you,” he cautioned, knowing full well that it had already been cast.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at or 702-383-0476.

Find more on Las Vegas’ music scene at


Comment section guidelines

The below comment section contains thoughts and opinions from users that in no way represent the views of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. This public platform is intended to provide a forum for users of to share ideas, express thoughtful opinions and carry the conversation beyond the article. Users must follow the guidelines under our Commenting Policy and are encouraged to use the moderation tools to help maintain civility and keep discussions on topic.

View Comments