Live: Bruno Mars and Janelle Monáe at Fillmore Miami, May 11

Hooligans in Wondaland Tour"
Bruno Mars and Janelle Monáe
With Plan B
Fillmore Miami, Miami Beach
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Better than: Watching the Heat, had they lost.

It's not surprising that Bruno Mars, a true voice for today's America, had a great reception in South Florida. He's from the same state of opportunity as President Obama (Hawaii) and has chosen a stage name that means he's simply out of this world to the race-/age-/gender-diverse audience assembled at Fillmore Miami. Plus, he's managed to capture a tiny piece of nearly every subgenre and look within pop music. Whatever he can't fit in, his tourmate Janelle Monáe has his back.

Monáe's performance was filled with stiffness, like the kind you find in a crisp, starched shirt. She and her massive band were all dressed in formal black and white. With her big smile, bigger poof of hair, and even bigger necktie, she led this good-time outfit with the precision of a drill sergeant. This rigor is especially difficult when painting an abstract green-and-orange woman's bosom on a canvas while performing the psychedelic treat "Mushrooms & Roses," and crowd-surfing (!) while remaining in character, but she pulled it off.

Aside from the fierce, no-nonsense material from last year's The Archandroid, Monáe slowed things down for a cover of "Smile," a Charlie Chaplin tune redone by Michael Jackson, adrift in jazz chords courtesy of her Bootsy-looking guitarist. For all of the robotic poses in her live act, nothing could keep her raw melisma from shaking the stage every which way -- even if some of the teens with short attention spans couldn't grasp it.

And just in case there was any doubt, "Cold War" was just as unhinged as when she performed it on the Grammys earlier this year. With background images of Mohammed Ali bobbing and weaving and later Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker battling with lightsabers, Monáe proved she's willing to fight every night with every muscle in her vocal cords. Only one song did she allow herself to thrash around, her last one. With the strobes flashing, "Come Alive (War of the Roses)" brought the cacophony down to a whisper with every performer lying on the floor, then back to a full-blooded finish. As she head-banged through it, the hair tightly bound to her crown started escaping, and who knows where it'll point her next? 

It was Monáe who performed an MJ tune, but it's Bruno Mars who has the kings of pop and their iconography in his sights. Michael Jackson's signature accessory was his one glove, Prince claims the color purple, and James Brown just had the sweat of his brow. Mars will probably ditch the fedora and the Levi's eventually, but he'll always be able to smile with those dimples, and boy does he love to do that. With nods to all three aforementioned icons, he laced together a pop revue heavy on showmanship, crowd participation, and songs that know where they came from.

Among the references we caught: the middle of a jazz-inflected version of "Our First Time," he threw in the line "I'll freak you right, I will" to the tune of Aliyah's "Are You That Somebody," a Chi-Lites-y "have you seen her" emerged as part of a radiant version of "Nothin' on You," and that fateful lick from the Cure's "Love Song" was tossed into his solo for "Grenade." So perhaps Mars' encyclopedic knowledge of songcraft might make him

seem a bit of a dork, but it's the lovable kind that inspires countless

hands to shape themselves like hearts.

With throwback covers of Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)" and a short doo-wop breakdown of the Schoolboys' "Please Say You Want Me," Mars showed he can have fun with the pop songbook from any era and make it relevant for an 11-year-old. Judging by the screams, anyhow. Even "Just the Way You Are" -- not to be confused with the Billy Joel song -- rose like the Top Gun theme in a live setting.

Although Mars admitted to "doing my James Brown" during "Runaway Baby," he kept a different sort of obvious mimicry to himself a little later on. "The Lazy Song" is pure (groan) Jason Mraz -- from the sunny chord progression to the smart-aleck lyrics to the overall sentiment of kicking back and doing nothing. Following it with the ukelele number "Count on Me" that Train will be pissed it didn't do first hammered home this comparison even more. Neither will be remembered as the most sophisticated Bruno Mars tunes, neither require him the same vocal gymnastics he displayed elsewhere ("Just the Way You Are" wins in that department), but they still brought the most deafening response from the crowd. That's knowing America and giving it what it wants.   

Critic's Notebook

The crowd: Half-pint kids, quarter-pint children, teens, tweens, folks who know Outkast songs really well, a girl taking obstructed flip video with one hand and obstructed digital photos with the other, some dudes with horrific pompadours, and lots of couples.

Random detail: Widespread cheers erupted once word traveled that the Heat beat the Celtics 97-87.

Overheard: Guy to his girlfriend, "I think we're the oldest people here... [looks around] Wait, nope."

By the way: Mars' backup singer Philip Lawrence joins him as a songwriter in the Smeezingtons, who have produced hits including "Fuck You" by Cee Lo.

Personal bias: No big surprise that Bruno Mars gave the paying customers what they wanted, but he exceeded my expectations immensely. Opener Plan B, on the other hand, was horrible.

Janelle Monáe's Setlist
Suite II
Dance or Die
Locked Inside
Smile (Charlie Chaplin/Michael Jackson)
Sincerely Jane
Mushrooms & Roses
Cold War
Come Alive (War of the Roses)

Bruno Mars' Setlist
Top of the World
Money (That's What I Want) (Barrett Strong)
Billionaire (Travis McCoy)
Our First Time
Runaway Baby
Please Say You Want Me (The Schoolboys)
Marry You
The Lazy Song
Count on Me
Liquor Store Blues
Nothin' on You
Just the Way You Are

Somewhere in Brooklyn (Miami version)
Talking to the Moon

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Reed Fischer
Contact: Reed Fischer