REVIEW: Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae at Verizon Theatre on Tuesday night

Posted on 18 May 2011 at 11:46am
Janelle Monae surfs the crowd. (bighaber.com)

My hope is that there were a few “come to Jesus” moments last night at the Haus of Mars & Monae. With way different approaches to pop music, both still melded into each other like fried batter and beer. And Texans love that, ya know. Plus, they delivered strong showings and raw talents.

I’m sad to have only caught the last half of Monae’s set, but upon my arrival, she was filling the room with her avant-garde music backed by a huge band complete with horns and strings. Monae, in her signature black suit (which I hate) is hard to pin down. She’s erratic and all over the stage like James Brown on crack, but it’s also exciting to watch. Whether she’s laying down on the ground singing or diving into the crowd for major body surfing, it’s hard not to just want to let loose with her. And she has the talents to back it up. Her vocal runs were extraordinary in a piercing, raw manner. She gets scary, gritty and then goes into sonic high notes with ease. Then she turned around to deliver sheer innocence in her cover of The Jackson 5′s “I Want You Back.” She nevertheless delivered strongly on her own hits “Cold War” and “Tightrope” as did her backing band, which generated the richest of sounds seemingly without any electronic help.

Mars was my big surprise. His music hasn’t resonated with me so much, but live, he worked it with beautiful overkill. Mars was a big flirt and he worked his lady fans over with smiles, hip thrusts and high notes. As with Monae, Mars’ band recalled many a soul concert from decades ago and his background visuals were effective. His songs translated much better as the live show with an overflow of energy and even joy. Where Monae recalled James Brown, Mars exuded Marvin Gaye with touches of Michael Jackson. Clearly, he had the retro thing down right. Although he pushed his big hits, when the tempo chilled around “The Lazy Song,” despite the cheers, the show plateaued and the vibe dissipated into the ordinary, but that didn’t change the fact that Mars ruled over his show and his fans.

Of the two, Monae edged out Mars in sheer dynamic. Her rawness in delivery was astonishing where Mars’ polish is showing. The crowd was definitely more into Mars, but gave Monae proper props which gave me hope that she’ll gain a bigger crowd of fans through this tour. Mars and Monae delivered big on Tuesday night, but Monae left a lasting impression.

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