Story and photographs by Heather Seidler
Hooligans in Wonderland Tour
At the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, with the triple-threat bill of Bruno Mars, Janelle Monáe and Mayer Hawthorne, there was sure to be some diverse stage performances, as each young artist borrows heavily from music of generations past, while incorporating their own modern sound. Some good feather-light 1950’s doo wop, Motown rhythm & blues, classic pop, sock hop and smoothly crooned, proto-soul music.
Detroit alternative soul-singer Mayer Hawthorne and his four-man band the County was a fearless and fitting opener. Delivering a tight and tailored set to an early evening crowd is never an easy feat, but Hawthorne confidently broadcasted his mature talents without the slightest scent of opening-crowd weariness. His short, but nonetheless sweet, thirty-minute set showcased his new album (How Do You Do), featuring personal favorite, “The Ills.” Even though the majority of the audience wasn’t very familiar with his music, it didn’t stop them from grooving to his Motown-inspired groove-heavy sound.
Second up, was co-headliner R&B soulstress Janelle Monáe, who being one of the best live performers on the planet, almost overshadowed Bruno Mars, but her set mostly sailed over the heads of the young KIIS-FM crowd. Backed by a 14-piece band dressed entirely in black and white, Monáe harnessed the energy of early James Brown with thrilling old-school footwork, updated with a rhythmic hipster shuffle, her feet swerving in an S curve, throwing in the standard Jackson moonwalk and the neo-classic side-moonwalk. She floated and twisted around the stage, throwing imaginary punches while clips of Muhammad Ali projected in the background during her song “Cold War.” With a show-stopping ending in which all the musicians collapsed onstage from faked death, while Monáe marched her funk around the crowd, piggy-backing on the back of a security man.
If you come out dressed in a Taking-Care-of-Business cape, you better mean business—and Monáe did mean it. Her cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” would’ve made Michael Jackson himself proud. Had it not been for Monáe’s superb singing and showmanship, the primarily performance-piece may not have gotten away with some of its over-the-top theatrical aspects, i.e. her painting while singing, however it worked for me, despite there being little crowd interaction.
The headlining Grammy-winning Bruno Mars, took to the stage last, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure how he was going to follow-up Monáe’s grandiose stage presence and energy. The fast-selling pop-soul sensation behind chart-topping hits “Nothin’ on You,” “Billionaire” and “Just the Way You Are” (just named the longest-reigning debut in Billboard history, after spending its 20th week at No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary charts) seemed poised and grateful for the spotlight, regardless of his newcomer status. Along with the accelerated success of his platinum debut, the 25-yearold Mars has already been around the musical block, writing hits for Cee Lo Green, Maroon 5 & B.o.B and dating back to his early days as a paid Elvis impersonator (at age 6).
Despite my uncertainty—with his simple charm, vocal sheen and endearing smile, combined with a crowd of shrieking fans, Mars kept me and the audience on our feet for the hour-and-a-half set. It’s a credit to his musical chops that the youthful Mars seemed completely at ease in the face of such an enormous, eager audience. Yet a little something went missing amid his sunny, relaxed demeanor—Mars wasn’t able to conjure anything more from his performance than a batch of competently played ditties that kind of paled in comparison to Monáe’s commandeering performance. Granted there were some very nice highlights, the angsty guitar-fueled “Grenade” and “Talking to the Moon”, the last song of the night, easily standing as Mars most emotional and finely-crafted statement. The song is a wide-eyed, relationship-themed ballad, evocative of the ’70s soft-rock boom. The imagery screening behind Mars during “Moon” definitely elevated the mood. Though the singer didn’t provide much of anything out of the ordinary, he managed to engage the crowd with the subtlety of a veteran and there’s no doubting the boy can sing. I could see the potential of his refreshing true-to-the-music approach. He didn’t employ any flashy pomp, crazy lighting tricks or gimmicky costumes, it was just about the music. Straightforward—as it should be.
MARS SET LIST:
- The Other Side
- Top of the World
- Money (That’s What I Want)/ Billionaire
- Our First Time
- Runaway Baby
- You Belong to Me
- Marry You
- Lazy Song
- Count on Me
- Liquor Store Blues
- Nothin’ on You
- Just the Way You Are
Somewhere in Brooklyn/Talking to the Moon