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MANILA, Philippines – The final installment of this year’s International Pyromusical Competition happened at the SM Mall of Asia last Saturday, but the fireworks weren’t limited to the skies above the venue.
Inside the MOA Arena, there were fireworks as well, and they were for the benefit of the man who organized the biggest concert party of the year thus far. Music superstar Bruno Mars came to Manila for the second time and, as expected, the show was every bit as explosive as the first, and with the addition of the pyrotechnics, perhaps even more so.
The combined attendance of the fireworks show and the concert meant that traffic going to SM Mall of Asia was extra hellish that evening. I left Ortigas at 6:30 p.m. but got to the venue at past 9 pm. It didn’t help that traffic was rerouted around the area, which meant I spent an extra 30 minutes going around the mall trying to look for parking. Thankfully, while the ticket said the show would start at 8, Bruno Mars himself appeared onstage at around 9:45.
Immediately, the part-Filipino artist launched into “Moonshine,” from the Grammy-winning album Unorthodox Jukebox. The wait may have been interminable, especially for those who were there much, much earlier, but audiences proved they didn’t mind one bit. Instantly everyone was on their feet, dancing and screaming along, while the play of light and sound hit their eyes and ears.
Bruno was dressed in a loose button-down shirt, a vest, pants and his trademark fedora. The stage was dominated by a gigantic video screen, while the drums and keyboards were on two separate platforms rising slightly above the stage. Everyone else – guitars, bass, horn section and backing vocals, as well as Bruno himself – made the rest of the stage their playground.
The Hooligans, Bruno’s backing band, were as much a part of the show as the marquee act. It felt like a psychedelic party up onstage, with every member of the band (with the exception of the keyboardist and drummer), dancing in a series of choreographed movements in time with the songs. Audiences who were at the 2011 show might have been familiar with the drill, but it still felt fresh and fun, especially with performances of the newer songs, including “Natalie,” and “Treasure,” followed by a really cool mash-up of “Money (That’s What I Want),” “Billionaire,” and “I Need A Dollar.”
Bruno showed off unbridled energy executing his moves. Anyone who has ever tried to sing and dance at the same time will know it’s not easy, and to do both well is even harder, but when Bruno does it, it’s effortless and just so darn infectious. During another mash-up of several songs, which included “Our First Time,” “Pony,” and R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” Bruno upped the showmanship levels to heights his contemporaries can only dream about.
“Is it okay if I play you some doo-wop songs?” he asked at one point. “These are the kinds of songs I grew up listening to.” There is certainly a throwback element to Bruno’s whole persona as a musician, a sense of experiencing something familiar, but at the same time, there is also something novel and one-of-a-kind, as he so eloquently displayed when the doo-wop segued into “Marry You.”
There was even a bit of unabashed flirting with the audience when he plugged Manila into the song so it sounded like he was proposing to the city. There’s one way to endear yourself to the crowd (as if he needed to).
Bruno kicked up the excitement levels towards the end of the regular set, with performances of some of his biggest hits, including “The Lazy Song,” (in which backing vocals Philip Lawrence took center stage with his memorable line in the track), “When I Was Your Man,” “Grenade,” and, arguably the song that has had the most girls swooning, “Just the Way You Are.”
“Being Filipino, to see you all out there, you don’t know what that does to me,” he said to express his appreciation to the star-struck audience.
Bruno came back out to do an impressive drum solo and, with the rest of the Hooligans, perform two more songs, “Locked Out Of Heaven,” and the big finale, “Gorilla.”
While filing out of the Arena, the thought in my head was whether it was worth it to contend with hours of horrific traffic coming to and then getting out of the MOA Arena just to see 90 minutes of Bruno Mars singing, dancing, playing instruments and basically entertaining the hell out of thousands of screaming fans. The short answer: it was. – Rappler.com
Paul John Caña is the managing editor of Lifestyle Asia magazine and is a live music geek. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @pauljohncana