Bruno Mars works his 24K Magic on Manila

MANILA, Philippines — It isn't rare to see the stands in SM Mall of Asia Arena filled with fans.

From music concerts to basketball games, the venue is typically booked with back-to-back events because frankly, Filipinos like their live entertainment.

What is rare, however, is to see those 15,000 seats occupied all the way to the rafters, especially for an added concert night, for a show with VIP tickets that peak at close to P24,000.

But such is the power of Bruno Mars.

Now, walking into a concert venue is always an experience in and of itself. Between the early-birds decked out in fan merchandise, to the buzzer-beaters who have slugged their way through rush hour traffic, there's an atmosphere of excitement that seems almost palpable, a sense of anticipation that's so thick and heady that you could cut through it with a knife.

They say that half of a concert experience in the crowd, and in this case, it wouldn't be remiss to wonder if Mars, who is well-known for his retro style of showmanship, would be able to meet Manila's high expectations.

Nothing but a bare stage with the curtains drawn greets the audience in the concert area proper – there are no props to be seen, no catwalk for the artist to saunter across, no opening act to warm up the crowd. There's nothing but a couple of screens along the side, with Mars' token crown emblem emblazoned on them to signify who will be performing that evening.

And yet the message is still delivered loud and clear: Tonight is no typical concert. No, tonight is going to be a bonafide show, and it's going to be from one of the best entertainers in the industry.

The house lights cut out and the curtains finally draw to reveal a blank, black stage, and a wall of lights – almost an ode to disco dance floors with its LED-lined edges – and Mars' band, the Hooligans, kicks off the show.

The second Mars takes the stage in nothing but a jersey set and his token cap, it's evident why the production seems so stripped down. The man doesn't need the flash and gimmicks to show people a good time; all he really needs is a microphone.

The show opens with "Finesse," a 90s nostalgic bop from his 24K Magic album, before he hypes up the crowd with the titular track itself, whipping out the pyrotechnics and footwork with the aid of his guitarists and back-up singers. It's nothing short of genius, really, how his opening song serves to establish who he is (having released a remix of it with Cardi B in January 2018), while his second sets the tone for the evening.

And we kick off Day 2 of #BrunoMarsAtMOAArena! — MALL OF ASIA ARENA (@MOAArena) May 4, 2018


Without the usual pomp, the show happens at breakneck pace. Mars takes to the microphone to implore the crowd to "party and dance" with them on their last night in Manila, and testament to the man's charm and charisma, at least 70% of the audience actually put their phones away, for which the reward are performances of "Treasure" and "Perm."

It's at this point that well-deserved props need to go to both Mars and The Hooligans. To Mars, for singing live for two consecutive show nights, because while his voice seemed tired he didn't fail to hit every delicious high note and the slightly-raspy quality of it only lent more to each song; and to the band, for playing their instruments while shimmying it out with Mars on the dance line.

Now, the stage may have been bare, but Mars has his set lists down to a science. The show picks up and powers down where appropriate, each song stretched out into skits and storylines worthy of a music video themselves.

Mars even picks up the guitar himself to perform "Calling All My Lovelies," making the crowd squeal when he incorporates Filipino into the lyrics, before diving headfirst into "Chunky," "That's What I Like," and "Versace on the Floor." At this point, the crowd whips their phones back out, but only to wave them in the air with their flashlights on – a sea of white stars against the dim.

"Marry You" picks the pace back up, followed by "Runaway Baby," during which the crowd coerces him into a small dance break. The song ends to a puff of smoke and the lights cutting out, because Mars is a true showman who uses his few theatrics to effective – and impressive – extent.

He comes back onstage to a piano-backed performance of "When I Was Your Man" that proves he can do feelings just as well as fun and funk, before a brief piano intermission and a costume change. He reclaims his stage with "Locked Out of Heaven," which ends in a spray of gold confetti, before dedicating "Just the Way You Are" to the crowd as he closes the show.

Wait for it #SmartBrunoMars #SmartMusicLive — SMART (@LiveSmart) May 4, 2018


In effect, it's a good two hours of pure entertainment, but not for entertainment's sake. The difference between a concert – an artist performing their songs live to a crowd – and a show – where an artist gives the audience an experience that's as unforgettable as it is resonant – is subjective and difficult to ascertain, but, judging by the sentiments of the crowd and their clamor for an encore, is a feat that Mars is fully capable of achieving. In the end, it's clear that talent takes center stage in his performances, just like how he creates music not just for the charts, but for that shared human experience.

It's a special kind of magic when an audience gives the artist back just as much as they are given, and hopefully, Mars felt all the love that Manila has for him because the cheers managed to usher him and the band out for an encore performance of "Uptown Funk," which had literal balls of fire shooting into the air and faux firemen coming out on stage with extinguishers. It was lit, in all iterations of the word.

Uptown fuuuunk!!! #SmartBrunoMars #SmartMusicLive — SMART (@LiveSmart) May 4, 2018


It's safe to say that Mars did not meet Manila's expectations, instead exceeding them in the best possible ways. The man is a showman, a born entertainer, and Manila can't wait for the next time he swings back into town to paint it gold all over again. –