If Arctic Monkeys headlined Thursday from a crossroads, Bruno Mars led Friday’s lineup from a very different vantage point. Deservedly or not, Mars swept the major Grammys with “24K Magic,” taking home six of six possible awards, and has somehow already performed at two Super Bowl halftime shows. Accordingly, his 90-minute show admitted no ambiguities or hesitations. Mars is at the top of his game—of the pop world in general—and he knows it.
Nearly every beat of what was nearly an uninterrupted parade of Top 40 hits appeared choreographed: Mars’ band, whom he introduced as the “hardest-working band in show business” (he’s never been shy about his influences), joined him for tight line-dance grooves even as they played (or appeared to play) bass and saxophone. If this might have resulted in a mechanical and impersonal-feeling performance, Mars compensated with a warmth and charisma that poured off of his frame onto the stage and halfway across Grant Park from the opening “Finesse.”
Mars’ stage was truly headliner-scale, with additional screens above the stage supplementing the Lolla-provided jumbotrons on either side. Diverging from the previous night’s headliners, whose unadorned black-and-white video feed contributed to their cool detachment, Mars varied the visuals, spelling out the lyrics on “Chunky” and flooding the projection with colorful, abstract shapes on “That’s What I Like” and “Locked Out of Heaven.” Ever the crowd-pleaser, Mars and band wore Bulls jerseys, with the frontman donning Scottie Pippen’s #33 Fireworks launched at climactic moments throughout.
Mars put a wide range of talents on display—not only singing and dancing but also soloing on a (gold, naturally) Stratocaster on “Calling All My Lovelies.” Without a guitar, he played the enormous crowd as an instrument: When he prompted a dance-off between the right and left sides of the audience, the ground shook—literally. The only low point occurred with Mars off the stage. Perhaps to give him a break, his keyboardist, John Fossit, played an impressive but bizarrely long keyboard interlude. Given the relative brevity of Mars’s time slot at 90 minutes (and 14 songs), Fossit’s recital so bewildered some attendees that they began leaving the grounds.
After leading the crowd in a grand-finale “Just the Way You Are,” Mars left the stage, but he rewarded fans’ faith in an encore of “Uptown Funk,” quite possibly the song of the decade. As Mars vocally stylized over the “don’t believe me, just watch” refrain, his corner of Lollapalooza felt like the center of the musical universe.
—Staff writer Trevor J. Levin can be reached at email@example.com.
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