Bruno Mars & Ellie Goulding at Toyota Center, 8/15/2013

Photo by Brad Barket/Courtesy of Live Nation
Bruno Mars at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center in June. Media photography was not approved for the "Moonshine Jungle" tour.
Bruno Mars, Ellie Goulding
Toyota Center
August 15, 2013

Robin Thicke may have the song of the summer, Timberlake may be the returning icon, Pitbull may be the ultimate party machine, but in the realm of male pop stardom Bruno Mars is The Talent. He's has serious pipes. He can rip up a guitar or a drum set. He writes such good songs even mediocre talent can hit the charts. Good-looking. Charming. Funny.

He can even dance. Nothing fancy, mind you -- he's not Michael Jackson, after all -- but good enough to make every woman in the Toyota Center break out in to cheers for every move he made.

Hell, everything he did elicited some sort of cheer, and with good reason: everything he did was wonderful. It was just one of those effortless, unpretentious shows that are good to catch now and then.

And make no mistake: he's putting on a show. It's not a concert pretending to be about empowerment to sell $50 shirts or loud songs dressed up as private confessionals -- Mars wants the people to celebrate, to dance, to have a fun time.

Mars will be the first one to admit that he's in love with the past. That's not to say that he's selling nostalgia, just that he's aware that many of the songs he writes are throwbacks to a different era. The difference between and him and other acts that are dusting off disco or mining classic R&B is that he's willing to commit to that mindset all the way through.

Photo by Marco Torres
Mars at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo in March
And so you get preshow music, outfits, and stage design that takes the crowd to an era before bass wobbles, back when the word trap was a thing you did to mice. And because he never stops to wink at the audience it works. Sometimes it's more powerful just do something rather than draw attention to it.

It does make the choice of tour opener somewhat strange. Ellie Goulding writes music that is very modern, so modern in fact that before the show I was concerned about her band's ability to pull off some of the complex production.

Of course, that retro vs. modern conflict means very little when you have a performer as strong as Goulding onstage. Pop takes a lot of forms, and judging by the crowd's reaction to her set they were perfectly fine with her as the opener.

Ellie Goulding doesn't have backup dancers, and that's awesome. Spectacle is great (I love it), but it's often used as a Band-Aid to cover up mediocre music instead of enhancing great songs. With just Goulding and her band onstage, the performance was still compelling, no mini-movies, costume changes, or squads of dancers needed.

While the biggest reaction to her set came from her closing run of hits- "Anything Can Happen", "I Need Your Love", and an amazing version of her megahit "Lights" that had some serious teeth- the real highlight was "My Blood," which managed to sound personal and anthemic in the big arena.

Goulding is for real, and here's hoping it's not too long before she's back in town.

Review continues on the next page.

Location Info


Toyota Center

1510 Polk, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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