Bruno Mars didn’t have to set up residency in Las Vegas. His last album, Unorthodox Jukebox, sold more than 1.8 million copies and his last Vegas concert took place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Playing to an intimate room of 3,000 at the Chelsea—the capacity of our city’s newest music venue, housed in The Cosmopolitan—was just for fun.
“We’re not on tour,” Mars said on the first night of his seven-date engagement, “Tonight,” he said, “this is for us.” An eight-man band, complete with horns, guitars, keys and drums, flanked him as they swayed in synchronized steps, recalling Rat Pack swagger. By temporal contrast, a triangular arch of LED panels displayed thematic imagery: writhing giantesses during “Treasure,” digital dollar signs during a cover of Barrett Strong’s 1959 hit “Money (That’s What I Want).” Mars poked fun at himself for the light installation: “I spent so much money on this dumb shit!” he said and called out to the light booth to switch out the backgrounds. Perhaps it was an opening-night quirk, or perhaps he was just having fun with “the best $200,000 [he’s] ever spent.”
Regardless, Mars commanded the show. “This is my childhood fantasy!” he said. He shredded guitar while he wailed on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”; he beat-boxed and popped his pelvis during a panty-dropper medley, which included Salt-N-Pepa’s “Talk About Sex” and Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up.” After successful execution of several cover songs, he asked the audience for requests, playfully rejected them (“Kelly Clarkson? … Security!”), then jumped into the standout mash-up of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” This was his show after all, so he did as he pleased.
The set list, which incorporated more than 20 numbers—many in abbreviated versions—wasn’t heavy on radio hits. “Billionaire,” “Just the Way You Are” and “Locked Out of Heaven” were present, but absent were current single “Gorilla” and the smash “Grenade.” Mars favored musicality over expectation, but he delivered a show of creative range that was worthy of inaugurating the ornate venue. He and his band conducted an arena-quality production that, coupled with his frolicsome demeanor, made the theater feel as cozy as an Old Vegas showroom. ★★★★☆
Photos by Denise Truscello