If you’ve been a fan of Bruno Mars since his first solo album, 2010’s Doo-Wops & Hooligans, you witnessed the then-25-year-old crooner sway humbly to a blue-eyed soulful pop mix of inspirations such as Billy Joel and Todd Rundgren. In the wake of his debut and 2012’s glossier follow-up, Unorthodox Jukebox, Mars grew in stature — and performed at two Super Bowls — and something even greater: The Funk.
It’s not as if he lost his soul — far from it, as witnessed by a voice that is soaked in sweat, loss, and sensuality. Yet, between the release of 24K Magic and its similarly named tour that sold out the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night, Mars’ new goal seems to be achieving “the funk” at all costs — sturdy, sleek, yet dirty — even if that hypnotic groove feels repetitious at times.
With a tight eight-person team of continuously undulating instrumentalists and singers beside him — a collaborative sense of motion and song that resembled a road tour of High School Musical — Mars leapt into funk’s fire with “Finesse” and the tour’s heated theme song. Marked by a Zapplike talking box, a rubber-band bass line, and 1980-style synth swipes, Mars’ giddily playful precociousness was immediately infectious as he sang, “Tonight I just want to take you higher / Throw your hands up in the sky / Let’s set this party off right.”
That such a mesmerizing bass-and-swipe sound carried through much of the Wells Fargo show was good, old-fashioned fun (to say nothing of rhythmically dynamic), especially since Mars and Company did all this without the nonsense that tends to come with mega-staging. OK, there were a couple of loud fireworks explosions early on, but the show was shockingly unplugged (or unlighted?) and straightforward — just a man, a band, and propulsive talent. Mars’ vocals were even lower and sultrier in a live setting than they are on record.
Flittering disco jams such as “Treasure,” the James Brownlike workout “Perm,” and — of course — his stuttering take on the Mark Ronson collaboration “Uptown Funk” were energetic and bold, but more variation in tone, melody, and rhythm could’ve kept the show from sounding monotonous. (It’s important to note that most of this similarity came courtesy of songs on his latest album, and not previous hits.)
Luckily, welcome (and downright sexy) variation came in the salted-caramel soul of “Versace on the Floor,” the merrily mid-tempo “Calling All My Ladies,” and what’s become the passionate new wedding standard “Marry Me.”
With all that and by show’s end — lulls aside — Mars and his band proved to be an unstoppable force, and perhaps, the hardest-working pop-hop band in the land.