One song was all it took for Bruno Mars to unleash a few dance moves that recalled Michael Jackson during his set Wednesday night at the Erwin Center. Back-lit and donning a fedora, the current king of pop (or at least one of them) didn’t shy away from referencing the King of Pop for much of the night, which was fine with the crowd, who offered up deafening screams every time he did so.
It wasn’t a surprise coming from Mars, who has made a career making slices of music history his own, both as a writer and performer. His most recent album, “Unorthodox Jukebox,” embraces that approach fully, both in name and sound – many of the songs on the album contain overt references to big sounds from music past. “Treasure,” Mars’ current hit, recalls Jackson’s catchy early dance songs; “Locked Out of Heaven” looks back to the Police; the piano ballad “When I Was Your Man” might pass for something out of the catalog of Billy Joel or Elton John.
Like the star that he is, Mars’ live renditions of those songs, along with other hits such as “Grenade,” “Gorilla,” and “Just The Way You Are,” were big, shiny and satisfying, with choreographed moves from the nine-piece band, which included a horn section. There were a few snippets of other people's music, including "Money (That's What I Want)," as well as songs that Mars has co-written, such as “Billionaire.”
There were also a few stranger moments, including a slow-motion video of parrots in flight during the first song. Later in the show things got a bit corny as the band took turns singing to a woman in the front row. There were pyrotechnics and even a drum solo from Mars at the beginning of the encore. At the end, he took things back to where he started the night, ending a larger-than-life version of “Gorilla” on a center-stage platform, bright lights outlining his outstretched arms and hat, once again resembling the late pop icon.